Do local hospitals have enough equipment to handle COVID-19 patients?

IU Health Methodist Hospital. (WTHR photo)
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INDIANAPOLIS — As Indiana hospitals prepare for the surge of COVID-19 patients over the next few weeks, administrators are collecting ventilators wherever they can find them.

“There are other ventilators that aren't typically on the floors of the hospitals of an intensive care unit but they might be available in an outpatient setting. A surgery center, for example,” said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association.

And they’re getting creative so some machines can be shared. Joe Meyer, senior vice-president of operations at IU Health, said 3D printers can make that possible.

“Essentially, (it’s) a split that would make one ventilator used for two patients, possibly,” he said. “So it is 'come one, come all.'”

Meyer said masks, included in “personal protective equipment – or PPE – for hospital staff are in short supply.

“What we need from the federal government, you have begun to see mobilized,” Meyer said. “Which is supplying PPE and other medical equipment en masse. They’re working very hard to catch up. We do need to start to see them delivered.”

Meyer said IU Health hospitals did receive a first delivery of supplies.

“We’re told there are more behind that,” he said.

How many ventilators do hospitals need?

Meyer said IU Health has a “very firm number” of what the system currently has and how many it will have ready to be used in the next two weeks.

“I can’t say today that we have enough ventilators,” he said. “We won’t know until we know the progression of the disease.”

“Do I think we have enough for some of the more pessimistic models? No,” Tabor said. “I think the federal government right now ... is taking a lot of steps to try to increase supply.”

Both Tabor and Meyer credited the Indiana State Department of Health and state government for coordinating the response and working with hospitals to prepare.

Hospital Systems working together

A Kaiser Health News study data analysis, published this month, found more than half of the nation’s counties have no hospital intensive care unit beds.

That is the case for some less-populated communities in Indiana.

But Tabor and Meyer said hospital systems are working together to prepare for an increase in patients from those communities.

Both said plans are underway for hospitals to share resources and to know where to send patients when their ICU beds are full.

IU Health currently has about 370 staffed ICU beds statewide. A spokesperson says the organization is actively working on plans to add beds in all facilities and regions of the state.

“We’re as prepared as we can be,” Meyer said. “This is the most intense work effort I’ve seen in my 30 years of work life.”