State regulators are investigating photos that surfaced this week of dead bodies piled together at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday.
CNN aired a photo the cable news network said it obtained from a Sinai-Grace emergency room worker of multiple bodies in body bags piled in a storage room.
Some appeared double stacked on the floor of what CNN reported was a portable refrigerator storage unit outside the hospital on Detroit's northwest side.
A second photo showed two bodies in bags laid on a bed in a sleep study room with a third bagged body positioned upright in a chair next to the bed. Hospital workers told CNN the bodies were piled up during one 12-hour shift at Sinai-Grace earlier this month.
"My reaction is the same as everyone — it's just incredibly, incredibly sad," Whitmer said Friday at a news conference in Lansing when asked about the CNN report.
The governor said state regulators "are investigating."
"We want to make sure we've got the facts and that is in process," Whitmer said.
DMC spokesman Brian Taylor said in a statement that Sinai-Grace has been impacted by the "significantly greater than normal mortality rates in the Detroit community."
"Patients who pass away at our hospital are treated with respect and dignity, remaining on-site until they can be appropriately released," Taylor said. "Like hospitals in New York and elsewhere, we have secured additional resources such as mobile refrigeration units to help temporarily manage the capacity issue caused by COVID-19."
David Harns, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said Friday that the agency had regulators on site at Sinai-Grace hospital this week. He declined to disclose what LARA is investigating at the Detroit hospital.
Michigan's COVID-19 death count increased by 134 in the 24-hour period that ended at 10 a.m. Friday. The death count now stands at 2,227 since the first cases of coronavirus were reported March 10.
The coronavirus death toll in Detroit stands at 582, more than 26 percent of the deaths in Michigan. About 24.7 percent of Michigan's 30,023 confirmed cases of COVID-19 are Detroiters, according to state data.
"Among the patient population served by Sinai-Grace, there are extremely high rates of underlying medical conditions such hypertension and diabetes, which puts people at higher risk for COVID-19," the DMC spokesman said.
The escalating number of deaths coupled with social-distancing guidelines has put a hold on funerals.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has been asking hospitals to report the space in their morgues each day. As of Thursday night, the state's hospitals had morgue capacity for 1,099 bodies, according to the daily report.
Whitmer said Friday that the state has been working to secure additional cold storage space for storing bodies of individuals who die from COVID-19.
"We need to make sure that we're careful and we handle the bodies appropriately and that they are done so in a respectful manner," the governor said.
This article was originally published in Crain's Detroit Business.