Indiana hospitals ramp up staffing ahead of COVID-19 patient surge

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Hospitals across the Indianapolis metro area are ramping up staffing as they prepare for a patient surge next week. Some are even training their existing employees to fill vital positions during this fight.

Ascension St. Vincent is conducting a critical care nurse training program that only takes two days to complete. The course is designed to cross train progressive care, PACU, Endo, Cath Lab, and previous ICU nurses to support critical care during the COVID-19 crisis.

More than 100 nurses have attended this class already. There is an opportunity to train an additional 81 registered nurses by April 10 which would result in more than 180 additional critical care trained registered nurses in their system.

The class is taught by four critical care educators. Some topics covered in class include ventilators and high flow oxygen therapy.

“That is the need and that is what we are all stepping up to do,” said registered nurse Brenda Christian.

Christian has devoted her life to helping others for more than 15 years. Before she went through the training program, she worked in pediatric surgery at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.

Christian began working in critical care about two weeks ago.

“It used to be that I came in at 5:30 every morning and I opened a recovery room and got ready for surgery patients,” said Christian.

She is spending less time in the recovery room to help her colleagues in a different department. She sees COVID-19 patients every day.

“You come into work and there is a little bit of an unknown on what might happen today,” she said.

Some staff were able to step in after elective surgeries were cancelled. Through this program, cross trained members will provide care all over central Indiana.

“Ascension took a look at the available nurses we have that could provide critical care to the large amount of expected surge of COVID-19 patients,” said Marlene McIntyre, Critical Care Consultant for Ascension.

Marlene McIntyre is one of the class educators. She believes critical care cross training will be vital in the fight against COVID-19.

As they began looking at the amount of patients they expect with the surge, she said the hospital network broadened the pool of nurses they looked at to train.

“We are shifting from a primary nurse model where an ICU nurse would have two patients to where it is more of a team model so they would work together with ICU nurse to provide care for more patients,” said McIntyre.

Christia Hicks, VP of Human Resources at Eskenazi Health, believes staffing is not a concern at her network. She said they feel prepared.

Eskenazi Health is also training staff to work in critical care.

“We have a lot of retirees that have reached out and expressed interest to come back and support,” said Hicks.

So far, Eskenazi Health has added about 50 nursing positions in Indianapolis. It also added 10 positions for respiratory therapists to meet the demands.

“We are trying to meet the needs in creative ways, and I appreciate the flexibility our workforce is showing in this time,” Hicks said.

As of Wednesday, IU Health said it is not experiencing issues with staffing. A spokesperson said it has established a centralized resource for staffing during the COVID-19 pandemic that helps train and redeploy team members to areas of greatest need. If a team member has been displaced due to temporary operational changes or slow-downs, such as rescheduling elective procedures, as a result of COVID-19, and wants to continue working, they can enroll with this centralized staffing resource and continue to be paid. This helps hospitals that may be reaching capacity with additional staffing resources.

President of Indiana Hospital Association, Brian Tabor, said even in normal times, Indiana has a need for more nurses, physicians, and other practitioners.

Even in normal times, Indiana has a need for more nurses, physicians, and other practitioners. With the quarantining of staff who become infected with COVID, these workforce shortages can indeed be made worse. We greatly appreciate the work of the State and federal agencies to relax regulatory requirements so that we can quickly shift resources and allow providers to practice to the full extent of their training while maintaining the same high standards of care and safety for all patients. Every little bit helps us meet the challenges ahead.

Indiana has seen a large response to its request for volunteer medical workers. State officials said more than 11,000 have filled out the survey, and the plans for deploying those volunteers are being finalized.

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