When Governor Gretchen Whitmer closed the state of Michigan in mid-March, COVID-19 projections looked scary. Michigan Medicine had opened the Regional Infectious Containment Unit (RICU) in record time to care for COVID-19 patients and was making plans for a field hospital that could be opened within 10 days. "Flatten the curve," a phrase coined by U-M medical historian Howard Markel (M.D. 1986), was suddenly everywhere.
Within a few weeks, it became clear that we had gotten lucky — especially compared to hospitals and health systems in Detroit. The number of COVID-19 patients on a given day at Michigan Medicine reached a high of 229 in April. By early July, the number was below 10.
Still, because of our intensive care capacity and because we are the main regional hub for extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), we took some of the sickest patients in the area. We limited surgeries to the most urgent, stopped in-person clinic appointments, and increased our telehealth capabilities to offer virtual clinic appointments. We housed some of our front-line workers in local hotels so they could avoid bringing coronavirus home to their families. Michigan Medicine adjusted work schedules to align with best practices for mitigating the spread of disease. Every one of our daily operations was impacted by the dramatic changes that were necessary to fight the pandemic.
In late May, protests against systemic racism broke out across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. The simultaneous crises of social unrest and the pandemic affected each other and had a particularly profound effect on people of color. Faculty, staff, and medical students responded with forums, protests, and action plans.
This special issue focused primarily on COVID-19 is our attempt to archive this extraordinary moment in Michigan Medicine's history. In the pages that follow, a stunning photo essay offers an inside look at the RICU that held some of our first COVID-19 patients. We've also told the stories of a Michigan Medicine nurse who became a COVID-19 patient and was eventually discharged from the RICU; a baby born in the driveway at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital; the overwhelmingly generous donors who supported our COVID-19 Philanthropic Fund and gave personal protective equipment, meals, and more to our front-line health care providers; the remarkable Medical School students who volunteered their time and energy to help our front lines; the innovative researchers who created dozens of promising projects in response to the pandemic; and the workers who witnessed the ravages of this disease and banded together with compassion, fortitude, and innovation to fight it. And we've begun to tell the story of Michigan Medicine's response to the protests, with more to come in future issues of the magazine. We also have not included some regular features in this issue of the magazine, such as Class Notes and Lives Lived; those will return in future editions. And we are not printing this issue of the magazine, as dictated by Michigan Medicine's Economic Recovery Plan.
In this time of deep uncertainty, the only thing we know for sure is that we will not get back to normal. Instead, we will go forward into a new normal, one that's full of opportunities to lead the next generation of health care professionals. Just one example is that Michigan Medicine won't return to being a health system in which telemedicine is a small percentage of our operations. Clinicians will continue to use — and advance — technology that will expand our capacity to offer more and better access to excellent care that meets patients where they are. Michigan Medicine also is starting the work of dismantling the systems of inequity within health care and working toward an antiracist future. As the editors of Medicine at Michigan, we plan to tell you the inspiring stories of this brave new normal.
Katie Vloet and Katie Whitney
Editors, Medicine at Michigan