As patient admissions spike to levels not recorded since last winter’s surge, some Indiana hospitals have announced delays in some non-emergency surgeries, while others have started diverting ambulances away from their emergency rooms and intensive care units. Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis has canceled all such procedures through at least Sept. 24. Columbus Regional Health, about 40 miles (64.37 kilometers) south of Indianapolis, suspended all non-emergency surgeries and procedures, indefinitely, starting Monday.
The state Health Department’s latest report showed that hospitals around the state were treating 2,631 patients for COVID-19 as of Sunday — up more than six times for the state’s level of about 400 patients a day in early July. Hospitals reported treating 726 people with COVID-19 in intensive care units, taking up more than 33% of available ICU beds. Statewide, nearly 83% of all ICU beds are occupied. Indiana University Health, the state’s largest hospital system, last week began to put off all elective inpatient procedures for at least two weeks. Hospital officials said the suspension will be extended if needed in two-week periods.
Dr. Chris Weaver, an emergency medicine physician and senior vice president of clinical effectiveness for IU Health, said that while last winter’s surge has taught hospitals to more quickly convert rooms to accommodate critical care patients, ICUs are “full and capacity is tight.” “It’s been crazy busy,” Weaver said. “We’ve seen a big surge — in high volumes — of COVID cases, and pretty much everything. But the COVID burden is adding a great deal to it all.”
Although Weaver said the hospital system has not reached absolute capacity — and he doesn’t think it will — the latest surge has required more hospitals to implement diversion measures, at times requiring patients to be transferred to other hospitals to receive care. “With the volumes that hospitals are seeing, and to take care of patients and to make sure that everybody has a space to get cared for safely, it’s really strained,” Weaver said. “The numbers that we’re seeing in our ICUs, and those being on a ventilator, those dying … a really, really small number of individuals that have been vaccinated are being affected that way. But that huge majority of people that are not vaccinated is really putting a strain on the capacity and access for care for everybody.” About 54% of Indiana residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the 15th-lowest rate among the states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State health officials, meanwhile, say 98% of recent COVID-19 hospitalizations are for unvaccinated people.
State officials have also maintained that if more Hoosiers don’t get vaccinated and wear masks, virus spread and hospitalizations will worsen though at least early October. They’ve attributed the recent surge, in part, to students’ return to schools. Nearly 5,000 new cases were reported among Indiana students in the state health department’s weekly update of the its coronavirus school dashboard on Monday. Only about 3,000 of those cases dated back to the previous week, however. The dashboard also reported 254 new cases among teachers and 397 new cases among other school staff employees.
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