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Hospitals prepare as COVID-19 surge expected to worsen in Central Indiana

Posted at 8:58 PM, Jan 13, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Within the first 13 days of the new year, Indiana broke the record number of single-day COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Experts predict the peak of this surge fueled by omicron is still weeks away for Central Indiana.

“You're seeing doctors racing around seeing patients addressing acute emergencies such as collapsed lungs, doing procedures,” Dr. Graham Carlos said.

Since finishing his fellowship, Carlos has worked as Eskenazi Health where he is now the executive medical director.

On Thursday, he spoke with WRTV in-between rounding.

“There are actually patients who are actually admitted to the hospital but having to wait in the ER because there’s no beds to move them up into the hospital,” Carlos said.

Beds are full, staff is tired and resources are stretched. It is a reality across the city, and one extending to both big and small hospitals throughout Indiana.

“Here we are in January of 2022 and I'm not worried of dying of covid unvaccinated. I'm worried that something else could happen to me like a car crash on my way home from work and that the healthcare system is too taxed and over, over full that I wouldn't have the ready access to care that I might normally have,” Carlos said.

In preparation for what may come, Eskenazi secured a refrigerated truck to expand its morgue, while National Guard remains on site. IU Health and Community Health also have trucks on standby.

“We're expecting in the coming weeks those people that have had covid and are not getting better they might succumb to the virus as many have in the past,” Carlos said.

“There's a lot of pressure on hospitals they're pretty much at their capacity and beyond,” Economist Micah Pollak said. He is an associate professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest.

Pollak notes ICU bed usage is one the most important numbers to watch. On Tuesday, less than 10% of ICU beds were available statewide, according to the Indiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard. In District 5, which includes Marion County, the number hovered around 5%, and it was even lower in other areas.

“We need places to put people in staff to be able to take care of them and we just don't have that now so now is a terrible time to get sick for anything let alone for COVID,” Pollak said.

It's important to note hospitalizations lag one to two weeks.

WRTV asked Pollak: “Numbers-wise, should we expect it to get worse?”

Pollak answered: “So that's the big question. If you look at countries that were hit earlier by omicron, primarily South Africa and the UK, especially London in the UK, there are signs there that they have probably peaked in cases and cases are starting to decline very quickly, which is exactly what we want to see. Unfortunately, that's not happening in Indiana, yet. Northwest Indiana, specifically Lake County was pretty much the first county that saw a sharp rise due to omicron and I think that we're starting to see a peak here. The rest of the state is certainly not. We're still quite on a very steep upward trajectory."

Central Indiana is a hub for major health systems in the state and therefore a place other areas rely on when needing to transfer patients to receive specialized care. However, when the data is showing what it is now, that plan is simply not an option.

“People don't necessarily realize that they think, ‘Oh yeah there's this healthcare system out there that will always take care of me if I need it.’ And you know the way things are going that that may not be the case,” Pollak said.

More than ever, Pollak and Carlos agree now is the time for Hoosiers to take all precautions to keep safe -- whether that be from COVID or any other illness or injury.

“If you can get community spread down, that opens up a lot of options you simply can’t have when there’s a wildfire raging through the state and our hospital systems are being overwhelmed,” Pollak said.

WRTV checked in with several other health systems Thursday.

As of Thursday afternoon, Johnson Memorial had 26 COVID patients with eight in the ER waiting for a room.

At Columbus Regional Health, a spokesperson wrote in an email it is “still running very high inpatient numbers and consistent COVID numbers.” On Thursday, it had 43 COVID-positive inpatient. A spokesperson said they are expecting hospitalizations to continue climbing.

Reid Health in Wayne County, it is seeing 58 patients in containment areas with 49 unvaccinated, 8 in the ICU and on ventilators. More information can be found here.

A Franciscan Health spokesperson told WRTV Franciscan Health Indianapolis has 100 patients with COVID-19 and the Mooresville Hospital has 15 patients with COVID-19.

Ascension St. Vincent were treating 109 patients with COVID-19 across Thursday. A spokesperson said it’s seen “a nearly 48% increase in two weeks.” The hospital further noted December of 2021 accounted for “25% of all COVID positive inpatients treated at Ascension St. Vincent hospitals across Indiana.”