INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been one year since the COVID-19 vaccine was shipped to hospitals across the country. It gave hope to so many that the pandemic would end, but this winter, healthcare workers are facing yet another surge.
The number of Hoosiers being treated for COVID-19 continues to climb. Hospitalizations have increased 150 percent in just over five weeks.
“The numbers I am seeing for ICU bed availability across Indiana are scary,” said Dr. Graham Carlos, executive medical director at Eskenazi Health.
This is causing many hospitals, like Eskenazi, to turn away incoming patients.
“Every day or every other day, hospitals are on and off diversion. As they are able to get patients discharged, quickly new patients fill right back in,” Carlos said.
Last week, IU Health requested help from the Indiana National Guard for nearly all of its hospitals. Currently, teams are supporting 13 of the 16 hospitals.
“We were watching the numbers go down and to have them turn back around and start going up again is just about the most disheartening thing,” said Dr. Paul Calkin with IU Health.
On Monday, they were treating 513 COVID-19 patients. That’s only four patients away from reaching its all-time peak last winter. As of Wednesday, they were caring for 496 COVID-19 patients.
“Indiana University Health is beyond grateful for the assistance of the Indiana National Guard and Indiana Department of Health. Their presence in our hospitals has already made a tremendous impact in supporting our team members and allowing our providers to continue to provide high-quality patient care,” said Dr. Chris Weaver, IU Health's chief clinical officer.
Across the state, more than 3,000 Hoosiers are in the hospital with COVID-19. That’s the first time in nearly a year medical teams are taking care of that many patients. The last time the number jumped over 3,000 was last December, before anyone was fully vaccinated.
“What we really want to see is infections start going down so then hospitalizations will start to go down after that and that will give us some relief to the hospital systems,” said Dr. Brian Dixon, director of Public Health Informatics at Regenstrief Institute.
Right now, new infections have leveled off, giving hope that hospitalizations will follow suit, but it’s not clear yet what the new omicron variant will do.
“I just came back from the hospital. It’s actually gotten much worse. I can’t stress enough how dire it is in the hospitals. Each of our hospitals is above capacity,” said Dr. Ram Yeleti, chief physician executive at Community Health Network.
Right now, both Community Health Network hospitals are above capacity and as result, many surgeries are being postponed. At this point, Yeleti said they have cut down to just doing cancer cases and postponed other surgeries.
He said every one in five beds is a COVID patient at his hospitals, with 95 percent of them being unvaccinated. His team is currently working on a plan in case that changes to one in five or one in three patients.
“When the last surge happened back in August, I thought this is really bad and this is actually worse than that and our predictions suggest that this is not the peak yet. We are still maybe a couple of weeks away,” Yeleti said.
Yeleti said at the beginning of the pandemic, the hard decision was deciding who received a ventilator. Now, it’s deciding who gets care.
“There’s going to come a day in the next two to four weeks that even if we don’t do a single surgery, we won’t have enough beds and that’s not just for our hospitals, that’s entire central Indiana,” he said.
The omicron variant continues to spread quickly across the country. Yeleti said it’s a matter of time before it takes over Indiana, saying even though it causes mild symptoms, it’s still very contagious, which means more people in the hospitals.
Doctors said the best form of protection is still the vaccine and the booster.
Twenty hospitals in Indiana are receiving help from the National Guard. That’s seven more than last week.
Those hospitals include:
- Marion General
- Logansport State Hospital
- Evansville State Hospital
- Goshen Health
- IU Health Ball Memorial
- IU Health Paoli
- IU Health Bloomington
- IU Health Morgan
- IU Health Bedford
- IU Health Saxony
- IU Health North
- IU Health West
- IU Health Arnett
- IU Health Blackford
- IU Health Jay
- St. Joseph Health System Mishawaka
- IU Health Adult Academic Health Center (Methodist Hospital and University Hospital locations)
Monroe Hospital will receive support starting next week.