IU Health calls on assistance from Indiana National Guard as COVID cases climb

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INDIANAPOLIS — IU Health is asking for assistance from Indiana’s National Guard as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are increasing across the state.

Data from the Indiana Department of Health shows COVID-related hospitalizations increased more than 20% within the past week.

“We are tired. Our people are incredibly tired,” said Dr. Paul Calkins, IU Health Associate Chief Medical Officer. “We were watching the numbers go down and to have them turn back around and start going up again is just about the most disheartening thing that I can imagine. People are really really tired of this. You can only do this so long before this becomes draining.”

Dr. Calkins said IU Health currently cares for 430 COVID-19 patients as the state approaches last January’s peak for infections.

“We’ve already beaten the surge from the late summer, early fall of this year,” he said. “We’re not that far from the January levels now. The largest number we recorded was 512. That was at right at the very end of December and we’re planning to go higher than that. The projections are in the mid-500s generally.”

In a statement, IU Health says the request is for most of its hospitals, save for Riley Children’s Health.

“Its really hard work taking care of a whole lot of people right now,” said Dr. Chris Weaver, IU Health Chief Clinical Officer. “It’s a big emotional strain to take care of people who are really really sick, many of whom are dying and the vast majority are not vaccinated and this really is a major surge of those who are not vaccinated.”

Statewide Indiana’s vaccination rate is approaching 70%.

While some Indiana National Guard troops are already in training at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, other guardsmen and women will report for duty as soon as tomorrow.

The National Guard will assign teams of six: two clinical and four non-clinical service members.

The non-clinical service members will offer administrative and logistical support to hospital staff, while the clinical members will focus on patient care.

“The teams are typically made up of six personnel,” said Lt. Col. John Shepherd. “We’ve got a couple of individuals on the team who will aid with essentially being like nurses’ assistants, the ability to do the vitals and assist with some of the bedside duties and help with some of the medical services that they provide.”

Lt. Col. Shepherd said other troops will assist with non-medical services, “things such as delivery of non-patient care type medications or goods throughout the hospital or cleaning, helping with moving things around, logistical support and some of the administrative tasks, helping with paperwork.”

The seven-day deployments could be extended an additional week.

A year ago, nearly 700 national guard troops were on duty inside of Indiana long term care and skilled nursing facilities, fulfilling similar duties.

“Both the non-clinical help that the guardsmen did for screening and PPE stocking and some other tasks freed up hands for those who were in the nursing facilities to go on and provide care and get back to their normal jobs,” said Zach Cattell, President of the Indiana Health Care Association. “The strike teams of medics to come in and do some limited nursing assistance was super helpful in circumstances when there were outbreaks and shortage of staff.

“We certainly could use that assistance if that was available from the national guard. Our workforce still is struggling, we are down about 9100 employees since the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020.”

Cattell said facilities across the state report not receiving any applications 80% of the time when jobs are posted and half of those who do apply aren’t qualified as the industry’s skilled nursing workforce has been reduced by 15-18%.

According to IU Health, all members of the National Guard teams are fully vaccinated.

From IU Health:

As COVID cases continue to increase and hospitalization of COVID and non-COVID patients reach all-time highs, the demand and strain on Indiana University Health’s team members, nurses and providers has never been greater. To best support our team members and patients, IU Health will leverage all available resources and enlist members of Indiana’s National Guard, in conjunction with the Indiana Department of Health, to assist in areas of critical need.

From Indiana National Guard:

Indiana National Guardsmen stand ready, as part of our dual role to state and nation, to help our fellow Americans and Hoosiers. In that spirit, when called upon, we assist hospital staffs with six-person teams.
The teams typically include two medics, who help with vital sign collection, assisting nurses with IVs and blood collections, and the additional four team members, who assist with non-patient care duties such as room cleaning, delivering food trays, paperwork and restocking supplies.

The jobs and tasks above are just some examples of what our Hospital Recovery Support Teams can do, but specifics vary according to need and demand. Additionally, teams are slated to help for one week, but could be extended if hospitals request the additional staffing through the Indiana Department of Health.

We’ve helped other hospitals in this capacity throughout state prior to this, since mid-September, but this is the first time we’ve assisted IU Health facilities.

The discrepancy between our statement above with one week, and IU Health’s with two weeks, is that after the first week the need is reevaluated.

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