Model allows Indiana hospitals to work together as they prepare for surge

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Hospitals across the state are racing to add more ICU beds and staff as health officials expect a peak surge in COVID-19 patients in mid-April.

As of Tuesday morning, there were nearly 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Marion County. It’s been just over three weeks since the state confirmed its first case.

“I will say the late April time frame is when we think we will be in the peak of this, when many places will be full,” said Dr. Chris Weaver, senior VP of clinic effectiveness for IU Health.

Dr. Weaver said some hospitals in the suburbs of the metro area are already getting full with critical care patients.

IU Health is working hard between health systems everyday to share data about capacity and number of patients.

That dialogue is happening through a model by the Indiana State Department of Health.

ISDH divided the state into 10 districts. This approach allows regions to work together as they prepare for a surge. Hospitals can share information and consolidate equipment.

This collaboration among hospitals will be key as more patients come to the emergency room.

“They are able to make their own independent plans for handling when patient volumes get sufficient to the point where they need to start directing patients to certain hospitals in their areas,” said Matt Browning, VP of business intelligence and member solutions at Indiana Hospital Association.

Facilities are working around the clock to create more space.

In March alone, Indiana has added more than 500 ICU beds. It’s baseline of ICU beds stood at 1,432 as of March 1.

Hospitals have stopped elective surgeries at this point. They can now use those areas to house patients as the surge comes through.

IHA said there are more than 5,000 medical and surgical beds in the state that could be converted for critical care.

The goal is to double critical care capacity and the number of ventilators.

As of March 1, there were 1,177 ventilators in Indiana. More than 700 additional ventilators have been identified so far, according to state health officials.

“At the end of the day, the biggest issue is staff,” said Browning. “Our frontline workers are acting in courageous ways right now, ensuring we have enough staff to take care of our patients.”

IU Health expects more hospitals will hit their surge capacity in the next couple of weeks.

When hospitals need to transfer patients where there is space, that is when this collaboration among the districts will be crucial.

More than 15 counties in Indiana do not have a hospital at all. The goal is to get patients to care as fast as possible.

EMS agencies will play a critical role in assuring patients who need care in those counties are being directed to those facilities that have capacity at that time.

“It is going to strain us all. It is going to push us all to our limits,” said Dr. Weaver.

Statewide, hospitals can see where materials need to be shifted if needed. Each of the 10 districts has a view of this as well.

Browning with IHA said some hospitals are even volunteering their closed facilities for more space.

“They are trying to find whether or not they need to bring those back into service,” he said.

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