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Smaller Indiana hospitals coping with capacity issues, COVID patient surge

Capacity at Hancock Regional Hospital has reached critical levels.

HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. — Indiana hospitals have been swamped with COVID patients lately.
The White House has even sent military medical help to IU Health.

But it's not just hospitals in Indianapolis in need of more resources.

Surrounding counties are struggling too. Capacity at Hancock Regional Hospital has reached critical levels.

"We are full," said Steve Long, Hancock Health CEO. "We are maxed out."

Every single bed for serious sick patients is taken.

"We've been at capacity here for the last probably close to three weeks," said Craig Felty, the hospital's chief nursing officer and COO. "We have never seen anything like this in our careers."

Another COVID surge is stressing the hospital and its resources, especially with staffing levels affected by retirements and burnout during the first COVID wave last year.

The health care heroes who remain are exhausted.

"They are working their tails off," Felty said.

"We have an unofficial motto here and it's what a blessing it is to work in a place where we love people for a living. We would just like people to love us back for awhile," Long said. "Now, we will have beds in places we never dreamed. We will redeploy staff in ways we never imagined we would and we will take care of people. But it ought not to be that way. This is a situation that can be prevented."

Half of the inpatients at Hancock Regional have COVID-19. Nearly all of those, at least 90%, are unvaccinated.

Credit: WTHR

What's worse, hospital leaders worry the peak of this surge, with omicron still spreading, hasn't even hit yet.

"All indications are that it will have a massive increase in the number of patients that are exposed and are infected. We just don't know how many of those end up in the hospital," Long said.

Already, it's affecting where to put people and how to care for them: longer wait times for treatment, and postponement of elective surgeries like joint replacements.

"We're constantly holding patients in the emergency department, waiting for discharges to come in," Felty said. "Sometimes when we have emergency surgery we have to hold patients in the PACU area, our post-anesthesia area, until we get beds."

"We postpone surgeries every week. And there are some we cancel and just have said we're not going to be able to do this until we're thru this surge," Long added. "We did not think we would be in this same position, two years in."

In fact, one year ago almost to the day, doctors and nurses at Hancock Regional first got the vaccine.

There was hope they'd turned a corner.

"We thought that was the beginning of the end of this pandemic," Felty said. "The mood was so positive."

"It was very positive, very positive yet here we are," Long said.

Inside hospitals now, the end of the pandemic is clearly not the case.

"It could be the case and it should be the case but unfortunately there are still a lot of our fellow Hoosiers and fellow Americans out there who have not gotten vaccinated," Felty said.

It's a preventable crisis, they say, pushing smaller hospitals to the brink. They're pleading for people to get vaccinated and get a booster.

Hancock Regional isn't the only smaller facility dealing with a surge in patients.

Columbus Regional Hospital in Bartholomew County had an overall census of 181 patients Wednesday, with 45 of those listed as COVID-19 positive. Their ICU is currently operating on a case-by-case basis as it is nearing capacity.

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