Exterior view of Sinai Grace Hospital in Detroit, Monday, Dec. 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Exterior view of Sinai Grace Hospital in Detroit, Monday, Dec. 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Staff at Detroit’s Sinai Grace Medical Center have compared the hospital to a war zone.

DETROIT, MI — Sinai Grace Medical Center is one of the hardest hit hospitals in the hot zone that is Detroit. Photos that went viral this week were apparently obtained by CNN from an employee of Sinai Grace, though the facility’s owners at Detroit Medical Center (DMC) seemed to refute that claim.

“CNN obtained photos from ER staff at a Detroit hospital, showing bodies pilled [sic] up in vacant spaces because the morgue was full,” CNN’s Marshall Cohen tweeted. “Thank you to the brave ER worker at Sinai-Grace Hospital who shared these images with CNN, and the other employees who confirmed key details. They spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity, out of concern for their jobs. They are sharing the truth about this human tragedy.”

CNN’s reporting went on to describe the scenes depicted as bodies piling up in a room set aside for sleep studies. An ER employee told CNN that this was because the morgue staff didn’t work at night and the hospital needed bed space for living patients. 

Speaking to The ‘Gander, Detroit Medical Center’s Director of Communications and Media Relations Brian Taylor didn’t confirm CNN’s story, though did not specifically deny the veracity of the photos. 

“The COVID-19 virus has caused significantly greater than normal mortality rates in the Detroit community.This has resulted in capacity issues at funeral homes and morgues outside of Sinai Grace Hospital,” read Taylor’s statement to The ‘Gander. “ Patients who pass away at our hospital are treated with respect and dignity, remaining on-site until they can be appropriately released.”

Taylor gave similar comments to CNN. 

Taylor mentioned that Sinai Grace Hospital has been using outdoor refrigeration units to deal with its issues keeping pace with the rate at which patients have been dying, and CNN confirmed  five such units at the hospital. One of the photos, however, purportedly shows bodies stacked on one another inside one of those units. 

Speaking to Fox 2 in Detroit, Sinai Grace ER nurse Jeff Eichenlaub described the scene in the hospital as “a war zone.”

“Frai, elderly people, lonely, by themselves. You know, just trying to breathe,” said Eichenlaub. “They come in talking to us and before you know it we’re having to put them on a ventilator. Before the end of the shift we’re doing life-saving measures, to watch them pass.”

Fox reported that nurses at Sinai Grace protested how understaffed they were while CNN had multiple ER employees telling horror stories about the situation at the hospital. Sinai Grace has been struggling to have the staff needed to handle the pandemic, though DMC has promised to bring on more staff to handle the massive rates of infection and death the hospital is seeing.

“You walked in and there were just patients everywhere.Sick patients everywhere,” Eichenlaub said. “There’s nowhere to put these patients because of the fact that we’re out of rooms.” 

Eichenlaub was one of few Sinai Grace employees who was willing to talk on the record to reporters. Both outlets reported that Sinai Grace’s employees were generally too afraid of retaliation to speak to reporters without the condition of anonymity. 

DMC did attempt to explain why Sinai Grace, in particular, has been so hard-hit in their statement. The hospital, DMC explained, is located near a number of nursing homes and serves a community with a high rate of underlying medical conditions that exacerbate the coronavirus. 

Sinai Grace is far from the only hospital using mobile cooling units, and in fact the Michigan Mortuary Response Team is prepared to deploy more such units where and when they’re needed, reports WXYZ. The Henry Ford Health System is also using mobile cooling units for the deceased according to a statement they released Friday. 

DMC’s full statement reads:

The COVID-19 virus has caused significantly greater than normal mortality rates in the Detroit community. This has resulted in capacity issues at funeral homes and morgues outside of Sinai Grace Hospital. Patients who pass away at our hospital are treated with respect and dignity, remaining on-site until they can be appropriately released. Like hospitals in New York and elsewhere, we have secured additional resources such as mobile refrigeration units to help temporarily manage the capacity issue caused by COVID-19.

Sinai-Grace sees more EMS traffic than any other hospital in metro Detroit and is the only hospital in Northwest Detroit. In addition, there are a large number of nursing homes in the area surrounding the hospital. Among the patient population served by Sinai-Grace, there are extremely high rates of underlying medical conditions such hypertension and diabetes, which puts people at higher risk for COVID-19. Sinai-Grace Hospital remains dedicated to its mission of providing quality compassionate care to the Detroit community.”