Indiana hospitals warn COVID-19 surge could overwhelm them


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – A coalition of some of Indiana’s top hospital systems warned that facilities are struggling to cope with the surge in COVID-19 patients – a sobering reminder that the coronavirus is still spreading quickly in the state despite the arrival of a vaccine this week.

With COVID-19 patient numbers hovering above 3,000 for nearly a month, Indiana hospitals are treating more than four times as many as they were in September and administrators fear they soon could get overwhelmed.

“Local hospitals are fast approaching crisis,” the Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety, which represents several central Indiana health-system systems, said Monday in a statement.

The state Department of Health on Tuesday added another 129 COVID-19 deaths to the state’s death toll, pushing the overall figure of confirmed or presumed coronavirus deaths to 6,968 since the start of the pandemic. The agency also reported another 4,347 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing the pandemic total to 434,642.

During an online news conference Monday, members of the hospital coalition said they are nearly overwhelmed by a record number of coronavirus patients and painted a grim picture of what has been unfolding in their emergency rooms and intensive care units. They also pleaded with members of the public to continue wearing masks and socially distancing and to forgo in-person holiday gatherings.

December is typically a busy time for hospitals because of flu cases, respiratory infections and other factors. Hospital leaders said that challenge has been compounded by the coronavirus and by the large numbers of staff who are quarantining and unable to work.

Indiana University Health is treating more COVID-19 patients at its facilities than it ever has, said Dr. Michele Saysana, the health system’s chief quality and safety officer. If Hoosiers don’t change their behavior to reduce the virus’ spread, the situation could worsen, as any increase in COVID-19 cases seen from Thanksgiving gatherings bleeds into any surge that follows Christmas get-togethers.

“That’s a real concern for us,” Saysana said. “The holidays are back to back. The way they line up could be a surge on top of a surge.”

Franciscan Health Indianapolis has treated record numbers of COVID-19 patients nearly every day for the past two weeks and has had to stop admitting transfers from other hospitals, said its vice president of medical affairs, Dr. Christopher Doehring.

“It’s certainly stressing us,” he said.

Lee Ann Blue, chief nursing officer at Eskenazi Health, said health workers are worn out from the labor-intensive work of treating the surge in COVID-19 patients.

“This work is physically and emotionally exhausting and you can see it in their eyes,” she said.

Because of visitor restrictions, nurses must watch every day as their patients die alone without relatives by their side, which only adds to the strain, said Jean Putnam, assistant chief nursing officer at Community Health Network.

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