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IU Health sees record number of COVID patients

By Lauren Bavis, Side Effects Public Media | Published on in Business, Health, Military
Methodist has the highest number of COVID patients among IU Health’s hospitals and has the largest intensive care unit capacity in the state. (Courtesy of IU Health)

Indiana’s largest hospital system has more COVID-infected patients now than at any point during the pandemic.

IU Health’s 16 hospitals across the state are at 120 percent capacity, with more than 2,000 patients, Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Chris Weaver told reporters at a press briefing on Thursday.

About 550 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, and more than six patients are dying from the virus every day.

“In addition to that, we’re very busy with all other illnesses as well,” Weaver said. “Our workforce has been really strained over the last two years, as you can imagine. And like everyone else in the country, health care and not, we do have a workforce shortage that we’ve seen.”

Weaver said even fully staffed, it would be difficult for IU Health’s clinicians to care for this most recent surge in hospitalizations, which started in early November. With staff out sick with COVID or quarantining, the workforce shortage has caused a major strain on hospitals. But Weaver said the shortage is not being caused by employees who left after the system required them to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

IU Health employs about 36,000 people, and only 125 employees chose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and no longer work for the system. IU Health spokeswoman Lisa Tellus said most of those former employees either worked part-time, less than part-time or had not worked for several months.

To help with the high patient load, 20 clinicians from the U.S. Navy have been sent to work at Methodist Hospital in downtown Indianapolis. Methodist has the highest number of COVID patients among IU Health’s hospitals and has the largest intensive care unit capacity in the state.

As of Dec. 21, only about 12 percent of ICU beds were available statewide.

“We do receive quite a bit of referrals for our high-acuity care, and we are making sure that we are trying to keep as many ICU beds and capacity open so we can meet demand not only within our health system but also outside our health system and for the state,” said Dr. Mark Luetkemeyer, chief medical officer for IU Health’s adult academic health center, which includes Methodist and University Hospitals.

The U.S. Navy doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists will be at the hospital for at least a month and are now training with Methodist’s staff.

“Our team is beginning integration into the hospital,” Lt. Cmdr. Michael Gibboney said. “We’re working hand-in-hand with the staff here to learn their system, their procedures, their protocols. When our team feels that it is in the best interest of patient care and when the hospital agrees that our team is ready to be integrated fully into the system, that’s when we proceed with beginning our whole mission and beginning to treat patients a part of the team.”