Henry Ford Health System has reduced the number of patient beds due to a shortage of workers.
The system cut about 7 percent, or 120 patient beds, from its five hospitals. The bulk of those lost beds are in Detroit and Jackson, Adnan Munkarah, the system's chief clinical officer, said Monday in a call with reporters.
The loss of beds is a blow to the system as its hospitalization rate continues to rise while the nation battles the dangerous delta variant of COVID-19.
Hospitalizations from COVID-19 is up 15 percent in the last two weeks at the health system with 129 patients hospitalized across its five hospitals. Approximately 79 percent of those hospitalized are unvaccinated against the virus, Munkarah said. Of the remaining hospitalized, 11 percent are in between vaccine doses and 10 percent are fully vaccinated.
Due to the newest COVID-19 surge, 95 percent of the hospital system's beds are being used.
Munkarah said the majority of the eliminated beds were general medicine beds and some were in intensive-care units. But he stressed that neither the reduction of beds nor the labor shortage is impacting care.
"This does not curtail any services," Munkarah said. "We closed those specific beds because we could do so while providing the best care."
But there is an impact. Munkarah said the loss of beds does lead to longer wait times in the emergency room — as long as six hours — as patients back up, waiting for beds to be admitted.
The labor shortage is a long-standing problem in healthcare largely due to an aging population and as non-emergency patients sidelined during the pandemic last year are returning for treatment and procedures.
People are living longer thanks to advancements in medicine and, therefore, are managing more chronic conditions as they age, requiring more frequent treatment.
The shortage begets the shortage as healthcare staff were and remain overworked due to the pandemic. As many as four out of 10 nurses have considered leaving the profession in 2021, according to an April study by health care jobs site Vivian.
Nearly half of ICU nurses, who most closely manage COVID-19 patients, are considering leaving the profession.
Henry Ford Health's vaccine mandate is also likely to impact its workforce. As of Sept. 13, roughly 98 percent of its 30,000 employees are vaccinated against the virus, Bob Riney, COO, told reporters. This includes includes approved exemptions to the vaccine for religious or medical grounds.
That means about 600 workers remain unvaccinated, a figure that does include the less than 1 percent of workers who have pending exemptions to the vaccine for religious or medical grounds.
The unvaccinated who have not received an exemption are now suspended without pay, said Riney. Those who get vaccinated before Oct. 1 can immediately return to work. Those who do not will "voluntarily resign" from Henry Ford Health, Riney said.
The distinction of voluntary resignation versus a termination allows the employees to be rehired in the future if they choose to get a vaccine, Riney said.