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13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Johnson County hospital opens new COVID-19 unit

Johnson Memorial Health's brand-new emergency department opened just in time to serve as extra space for potential COVID-19 patients.

FRANKLIN, Ind. (WTHR) - Johnson Memorial Health will eventually have a brand-new emergency department on its Franklin campus. It's part of a $47 million expansion that also includes a new outpatient services department. But the newest wing of the hospital just opened instead as a COVID-19 unit.

"It is divine intervention,” said Dr. David Dunkle, Johnson Memorial Health CEO & president. “I truly believe that."

Dr. Dunkle said the new emergency wing was about two weeks from completion when administrators decided to temporarily give it a new purpose.

"It's a game changer for the community,” he said. “When you look at the fact that right now, just in the COVID-19 unit, we can house up to 28 people. Previously in isolation, it would have been four. We would have to do what the CDC says you can do, is put people in private rooms with the door closed. But obviously, that's not an optimal situation."

The COVID-19 unit's air circulation is separate from the rest of the hospital. The first patients moved to the new wing Thursday evening. The unit had six patients as of Wednesday morning. Four have tested positive for coronavirus. The other two are high-suspicion cases awaiting lab test results.

So far, no hospital staff working in the COVID-19 unit have tested positive.

"This really allows us to increase our capacity and increase the capacity of people that we're taking care of in a safe manner,” Dr. Dunkle said. “Not only is it better for the patients, it's better for our staff. Because again, we have to protect our staff."

Dr. Dunkle said the hospital is half-empty due to the postponement of elective surgeries and people avoiding the hospital unless they have COVID-19 symptoms. Visits to the emergency room were down 30 percent in March.

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 118 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday with three deaths in Johnson County. Johnson Memorial Health has not dealt with any coronavirus deaths yet. The hospital has 13 ventilators on hand and none are currently in use. But the surge of COVID-19 cases is not expected for at least another two weeks.