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'We’ll take any help we can get': Rural Indiana hospitals struggle with COVID-19 surge

Reid Health
Posted at 8:33 PM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 20:33:48-05

RICHMOND — Rural hospitals in Indiana are struggling with an influx of COVID-19 patients. Many of these hospitals have larger coverage areas but have fewer beds than hospitals in cities, like Indianapolis.

"We're the larger hospital in our service area so if we were to shut our doors we wouldn't just impact our immediate service area. There's several counties and even two states that be impacted,” said Tyler Evans, Reid Health’s heart and vascular service line director.

Reid Health serves eight counties split across two states.

"It really is neighbors caring for neighbors,” Evans said, who works alongside his wife, brother and cousins. Wayne County is home for Evans and his work is personal.

"We're not a city or a large population where we don't see the same people again," Evans said. "A lot of these people we've cared for, for years, so to all the sudden -- I would feel – to turn our back on them, wouldn't be the right thing to do."

This month, the Richmond hospital saw shortages of treatments and staff. It then faced long backups in the emergency room, where some patients waited upwards of 48 hours for a bed.

"It's a wartime mentality, where you're making triage decisions, who's going to live and who's going to die, you know, because you don't have the resources to take care of everybody,” Reid Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Huth said.

Statewide, around 9% of ICU beds are open. Wayne County sits in District 6 of the state's preparedness map where only 3% of ICU beds were available, according to data from Dec. 28.

"In a 30 bed ICU, 28 are filled, so I have one bed open,” Huth said. “That's not how we're built to run."

The beds are filled with mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. Reid Health hit "peak" earlier this month with 70 or so people with coronavirus and now, that number dropped to 55 COVID-19 patients.

WRTV asked: “Is it false hope to see that those cases are going down in your hospital right now?”

Dr. Huth responded: “Yeah, I mean, we don't take a lot of solace in that. We'd like to before the big wave comes from omicron, we'd love to see the numbers come down even further. But they're not coming down at a very rapid rate, so I don't think we're going to be a whole lot better than we are now when omicron hits.”

Huth said during the second year of the pandemic, the shortage in staff has been the hardest to overcome. The “great recession” as many call it, Huth said, is happening in the healthcare industry for a variety of reasons.

"We bring in on average about a hundred new employees a month, and on average a 100 to 105 leave a month,” Huth said.

On Thursday, a six-person Indiana National Guard team started at Reid Health. Three of the six guardsmen are medics. The team will continue for at least two weeks at the hospital before there is a chance to extend the team for another month.

“We’ll take any help we can get,” Huth said.

Every day is challenging, but those at Reid say they are dedicated to fighting this virus head-on.

"I think there has been some times when you maybe feel like you can take a breath, but I don't think anyone completely exhales. I think we know that it's always around the corner,” Evans said.