Macomb County's struggle with safety compliance pushing COVID-19 hospitalizations up

Of the hundreds of people hospitalized with COVID-19 at Henry Ford hospitals, the health system's Macomb location is carrying the bulk of patients. 

Citing the county's struggles maintaining compliance with regards to coronavirus safety measures, a doctor with Henry Ford Health Systems worried the behavior could put further pressure on the hospital chain. 

"What we have witnessed in the Macomb area, positive cases increased before other areas," said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, the chief clinical officer for HFHS. "Unfortunately, this is an area where compliance with measures was not up to par."

Speaking during a virtual press conference Friday, Munkarah characterized the coronavirus situation in Michigan as "very concerning," specifically pointing out places where residents failed to wear masks, socially distance, and gather in crowds as one of the primary reasons for the state's COVID-19 spike.

"When there is a lower adoption of mask-wearing and or limiting gathering, we've seen increases in cases and higher admission in hospitals in these communities," said the doctor. Of the 387 patients hospitalized at Henry Ford hospitals, a "majority" of them are from Macomb.

Munkarah's assessment falls in line with what the hospital chain's CEO said on a zoom call Thursday when Wright Lassiter said Henry Ford Macomb Hospital had "the highest volume by far," with regards to coronavirus patients.

"It has twice the inpatient volume that Henry Ford Hospital has, and Henry Ford Hospital has more than two times the number of beds that exist in Henry Ford Macomb Hospital," he said.

Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Clinton Township

Health officials from both government and health care begged Michigan residents to comply with safety measures like masking up and avoiding small-to-medium gatherings.

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While tracking the compliance of residents abiding by safety measures can be tough, doctors can look at where hospitalizations increase as a sign that people aren't following the rules. Unfortunately, community spread can lead to collateral damage in the hospital.

"(It's) impacting staffing," Munkarah said. "(There's) a significant shortage in staffing that's related to exposure in the community."

As the virus moves throughout the community, health care workers are increasingly being exposed to the virus. That forces them into quarantine and away from work, where they're needed most.

Per data from, Macomb County is reporting the highest rate of cases per million people among Southeast Michigan counties, at 28,833. In Oakland County, it's 23,261 and in Wayne County, it's 24,656 cases per million people. 

RELATED: Michigan health leaders warn of "exponential increase" in COVID-19, sound alarm on hospital capacity

While doctors are citing worries about capacity in hospitals at this moment, the real trouble they say is in the two-week delay that usually follows behavioral changes among residents. With cases rising exponentially, health executives anticipate hospitals will begin housing more people positive with the virus in November than they did in the last peak in April. 

And that could mean spiking death totals, which have already begun ticking back up. 

While the capacity for ICU beds is nearing 100% in Henry Ford Health System hospitals, Munkarah said the facilities have contingency plans to open more space for patients. Currently, 25% of those hospitalized at HFHS are in the ICU. 

Munkarah also said ventilator use remains low due to changes in how doctors treat people carrying the disease. The hospital also has plenty of personal protective equipment available for if supplies run low.