INDIANAPOLIS — Doctors at IU Health say they're busier than ever, so it’s no surprise they've asked that a team of FEMA doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists stay an extra 30 days to assist at Methodist Hospital.
The team of 20, plus three administrative personnel, has been in the mix since late December. They're still needed, as more staff gets sick with COVID-19 or has to quarantine because of exposure to the virus.
"We're still going to need all the help we can get for the next 30 days,” said IU Health’s Dr. Mark Luetkemeyer.
He cites a surge in COVID cases from the omicron variant, which is likely still not at its peak. It means the medical team from FEMA will continue the work that started during the holidays.
"They help from the emergency room, our (medical surgical units) and our ICUs. We are scheduling them just like we would our own team and really, I think, the value of that FEMA team has been not only to provide direct patient care, but it's also been to provide some relief to team members working alongside them,” said Luetkemeyer.
Even as the number of COVID patients across the IU Health system dipped briefly recently, Luetkemeyer said those numbers are on the way back up again, with 634 COVID patients in IU Health facilities, including 175 at Methodist.
"We have seen some increased discharges lately. We are also seeing the total number of deaths rise, and so this has been the highest in 30 days of deaths that we have seen since the 2020 winter surge,” Luetkemeyer said.
Of the patients IU is seeing in its hospitals on a given day, 70% are unvaccinated.
"We are not seeing ICU patients with COVID that have been vaccinated and boosted,” explained Luetkemeyer.
Luetkemeyer hopes the arrival of at home test kits from the federal government will make it more convenient for people to know if they're positive for the virus, particularly during a surge.
"We know at-home COVID tests aren't perfect, but they do give you more information than not testing at all,” he said.
With the arrival of flu season and the number of those cases going up, doctors are watching closely, concerned about additional health care needs to deal with that on top of the omicron variant.