Local hospitals urge non-critical patients to use virtual screening clinic amid staff shortage

Coronavirus

IU Health Lifeline truck

INDIANAPOLIS — A second surge of COVID-19 cases is bringing a new set of problems to Indiana’s largest network of physicians.

Dr. Michele Saysana, chief quality and safety officer at IU Health, said this latest spike in cases being seen across the state is significantly different from the first spike frontline workers saw in the spring.

Dr. Saysana said during the first surge in cases, higher hospitalization rates were mostly seen in metro-area hospitals.

“We didn’t see as high of numbers in our other communities where we have hospitals like in West Lafayette and in Muncie and Bloomington and where we have smaller critical access hospitals,” Dr. Saysana explained. “Now, I’ll be honest, we see it everywhere.”

She said high numbers are being reported across the dozens of IU Health hospitals. However, unlike the shortage of PPE frontline workers dealt with during the spring, Dr. Saysana said hospitals are now faced with a shortage of staff.

“Part of that issue is because people are getting sick with COVID because of community spread, so then they’re quarantined and at home and not able to work,” said Dr. Saysana.

Dr. Saysana said IU Health’s previous peak in the number of staff in quarantine was back on April 1 with just under 1,000 staff members.

“As a matter of fact, we surpassed that number last week,” said Dr. Saysana.

Right now, over 1,000 staff are quarantined, and she said the shortage creates significant challenges for the hospital because cases continue to rise.

Dr. Saysana said there are over 300 patients across the IU Health system that are in the hospital with COVID-19 — that is higher than what was seen in the spring.

Because of this, IU Health officials are urging non-critical patients to use their virtual screening clinic. There, a health professional will decide whether your condition warrants a trip to the emergency room.

Still, Dr. Saysana emphasized the hospital is not turning away any patients, critical or not.

“What we don’t want people to do is feel like they can’t come seek care,” stated Dr. Saysana. “We are still here. We still want to take care of you, and we know we need to take care of you.”

IU Health has moved to what is called “teams-based nursing,” where staff and nurses are moved across departments or even to different facilities to fill in the gaps.

“A lot of us are concerned about what the next few weeks and months bring,” relayed Dr. Saysana. “I don’t think any one of us thought that we would be talking about this right before Thanksgiving.”

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