INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– When Governor Eric Holcomb announced several executive orders temporarily shutting down parts of Indiana in advance of the anticipated surge of seriously ill COVID-19 patients expected to flood Hoosier hospitals in the days and weeks to come, he singled out the cooperative model long established by Indianapolis’ largest medical care facilities as an example of the state’s battle against the pandemic.
“Let me also say how proud I am of our five central Indiana hospitals,” said Holocomb. “In order to expand capacity and enhance coordination and save lives, we’re activating a concentrated health care oriented emergency operations center jointly run by Marion County, our capitol city and the state. This center will centrally inventory and provide support for personnel, supplies like ventilators, masks, goggles, gloves and gowns and space as we move into the patient surge for COVID-19 phase. By supporting movement and coordination among all hospital systems, we will not leave any health care delivery system alone in their struggle to take care of Hoosiers, both those affected by the pandemic and those with other illnesses.”
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Eskenazi Hospital, Community Health Network, IU Health/Methodist, Franciscan Health and Ascension Health account for more than 3700 in-patient beds at their main facilities, not to mention hundreds more sprinkled throughout Marion County at affiliated sites and other smaller hospitals and medical care centers.
While many of those beds are currently filled with non-coronavirus patients, others are being freed up or reconfigured to handle those most seriously ill with COVID-19.
“We started with the central Indiana hospitals only because that’s where we’ve seen the most community spread,” said Holcomb. “This hybrid approach will be replicated across the state to insure that we are the best prepared to address the spread in each quadrant of our state.”
Indianapolis hospitals are already cooperating and represented by MESH: the Managed Emergency Surge for Healthcare coalition that is unique and a leader in the field of public/private medical care coordination in the country.
MESH is also on duty at the Emergency Operations Center on Indianapolis’ east side during the current coronavirus crisis.
“We’re sitting at the Regional Operations Center with several other folks from the city of Indianapolis and the county and just manning that and being an information hub,” said MESH Executive Director Jennifer Pitcher. “Right now we’re assessing diversion status and bed availability at hospitals and right now there is availability for folks to be treated so we are in decent shape there in Marion County.”
MESH brings more than two decades of cooperative planning and experience to responding to potential mass casualty incidents such as the anthrax events of the late 1990s and early 2000s and the tornado that hit in the vicinity of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Race Day in 2004.
“We are on top of everything we possibly can be and we are sharing information every second of the day and night,” said Pitcher.
A veteran local emergency preparedness consultant said Indianapolis is uniquely suited for such medical community cooperation during a crisis.
“Central Indiana’s medical institutions, while they technically are competitors, actually cooperate quite well and they have quite a bit of resources,” said Peter Beering. “This is not a situation that we’ve seen elsewhere in the world. We have a lot of medical capacity and we have a lot of medical capacity here in central Indiana that people have thought about that could be placed into service to help deal with the surge.
“Quite a bit of work has gone on behind the scenes to deal with resources, personal protective equipment and all of the things that are necessary to properly address this. This, however, is the first really large scale test that any of these systems will have had in a very long time.”
During his Monday address, Holcomb indicated that the role and needs of Marion County hospitals would be key in the disbursement of potentially scare medical resources and supplies from the strategic federal stockpile.
“(The) comprehensive emergency operations center…is charged with tracking the inventory of all hospital beds, supplies and personnel as the number of COVID-19 patients grows.”
Holcomb singled out the five Marion County hospital chains by name.
“They are all together going to be quickly able to respond to unmet needs and pool precious resources for the state’s well-being. This is yet Indiana responding to uncommon problems with uncommon solutions.”
During an appearance before reporters at the statehouse Tuesday afternoon, the governor said that while the Marion County model of medical care center cooperation should be a blueprint for health care providers throughout the state, he said he was contemplating at this time whether the most seriously ill coronavirus patients or overflow patients from outside of Indianapolis would be sent here for hospitalization.