Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is offering to pay the salaries and benefits of employees with medical training who volunteer to work in the coronavirus field hospital being constructed inside TCF Center in downtown Detroit.
Michigan's largest health insurance company sent employees a memo Wednesday announcing the plan to grant full paid leaves of absence to any employee with a background in nursing or medicine to help the state staff the 1,000-bed hospital the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is constructing.
Within 24 hours, 29 employees have come forward to volunteer and most are nurses, Blue Cross spokeswoman Helen Stojic said Friday.
"All employees who meet the state's volunteer requirements will be granted the opportunity to do so," Stojic said in an email to Modern Healthcare's sister publication, Crain's Detroit Business.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration is seeking doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and other medical professionals to staff a 1,000-bed medical quarantine facility spread out across 300,000 square feet of TCF Center's exhibition space that could be opened up to COVID-19 patients by April 10.
State health officials have said the temporary field hospital will house only COVID-19 patients who are ill, but do not require a ventilator to maintain their breathing.
Through Wednesday, more than 7,000 medical and public health professionals had filled out a volunteer application on the state's website, said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Whitmer has called for retired medical professionals and individuals who are training to be doctors, physician assistants, nurses or nurse assistants to volunteer. Hundreds of nursing and medical school students in Michigan are expected to enter the workforce early.
"There is a huge need right now," she said.
As of Thursday morning, Michigan had 10,791 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 417 deaths.
The governor said Thursday that her administration is "making preparations to have additional offsite" medical quarantine sites "across the state" should COVID-19 cases continue to rise as expected.
Lt. Col. Greg Turner, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' Detroit district, said Wednesday that a second coronavirus relief hospital could be built inside Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.
Whitmer touted Blue Cross' paid volunteer initiative during a televised town hall meeting Thursday night about the state's response to the coronavirus that was broadcast on TV stations across the state.
"A great employer in the city of Detroit, Blue Cross, they told their employees if you have health care background and you want to joint the governor's call to action, we'll keep paying your salary and your benefits," Whitmer said. "... That precisely the attitude we have to have."
The governor's father, Richard Whitmer, was CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan from 1988 to 2006.
Whitmer said she has "resolved" scope of practice issues and lifted regulatory restrictions "to make it easier" for outstate and out-of-state medical professionals to come work in Detroit at the overflow hospitals.
"If you are one of those health care providers in another part of the state and you're not on the front line but want to join, there is a need in Southeast Michigan," Whitmer said Thursday. "... We've made it easier for people to join the front lines because we need to have all hands on deck."
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Detroit Business.