Henry Ford Medical Group CEO Talks to Retirees About COVID-19



Dr. Steven Kalkanis, CEO of the Henry Ford Medical Group and founding medical director of the Henry Ford Cancer Institute at the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS), provided a glimpse into how HFHS handled the COVID-19 crisis and answered questions about the virus at a recent virtual meeting of Ford Retired Engineering Executives (FREE).

Two days after Dr. Kalkanis took over as CEO of the Henry Ford Medical Group, he said HFHS admitted its first patient with COVID-19. 

“The tidal wave of what transpired was historic because within three weeks we went from having one patient to 1,000 patients, and it wasn’t just people who had symptoms and needed to be monitored,” said Dr. Kalkanis.  “All of the patients were very sick and needed to be admitted to the intensive care unit.  They were quite frankly dying in proportions that we had never seen before.”  

Dr. Steven Kalkanis, CEO, Henry Ford Medical Group

Dr. Kalkanis said COVID-19 stressed the health system more than any other pandemic.

“Never in any American medical center in the United States in modern times did we ever have to think that things like paper gowns or masks or gloves would be such a hot commodity,” he said.  “Personal protective equipment became a huge problem.” 

Ventilators also became problematic, with Henry Ford reaching 100% equipment capacity on April 9.

“We weathered this storm because we were able to utilize anesthesia machines as ventilators, and many of you at the Ford Motor Company and many other companies came through with supplies, converting production to much-needed medical equipment,” explained Dr. Kalkanis.  “This is something that we certainly will never forget.” 

Dr. Kalkanis also discussed where we are today with COVID-19.

“The rates in Michigan have dropped considerably and this is great news.  This is a reflection of the fact that perhaps we have some herd immunity in our community and that social distancing is working,” he said.  “But we’re not quite out of the woods.” 

He said the development of a vaccine is critical.  

“The good news is I do believe that a vaccine will be developed within the next several months, but the operational logistics of going from a positive clinical trial result to getting 300 million safely packaged individual vials distributed throughout the country and more to the world – that’s something that’s going to take some time,” he said.

Following the presentation, Dr. Kalkanis took questions from retirees.  Here are  some of the questions and answers.

What is the benefit of testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies?

If someone has antibodies, it usually means they’ve had the disease, have recovered from it and are immune to it.  But there is no clinical evidence to prove this yet. 

I donated blood recently.  Do they test blood donations for COVID-19?

Yes, a blood purification system was added in March to make sure all donations are safe.

If I had COVID-19 and recovered from it, is there anything I can do to help others?

That’s a resounding yes.  We had a physician at HFHS who was near death from COVID-19 and got well within two days after received donated “convalescent plasma” from someone who recovered from COVID-19.

Many universities, athletic programs are planning to re-start.  What’s the likelihood that these things can be pulled off safely? 

It all depends on the rates of incidence in the community. If there is less than 1% prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, then there is a good chance activities can resume safely as long as there are safety procedures in place, such as temperature testing, etc.  If there is a seasonal surge of the virus in the fall, then cases will ramp up in October and November with a peak in December and January.  We should know better where we stand by August or September.

What’s your opinion on fitness centers? 

The gym is a high-risk environment.  People sweat a lot and you can spread the virus by touching equipment or breathing heavily near other people.  My advice would be to enjoy the warm weather for the next month or so before heading back to the gym.  If you do go, the best way to protect yourself is to make sure you stay six feet away from others, do not touch equipment unless it has been wiped down with sanitizer and stay away from people who are breathing heavily.

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