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'We could use that times 20': FEMA and National Guard members helping fill staffing void at IU Health hospitals

iu health methodist hospital
Posted at 7:13 PM, Dec 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-23 19:13:54-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Emergency rooms are slammed, hospital beds are full, diversions have been at a high and employees at IU Health hospitals are exhausted.

"In my career, I have never seen it as busy or full than I have seen it in the last month or two," said Dr. Chris Weaver.

This week, 20 Navy medical staffers arrived at IU Health Methodist Hospital to help out. The team consists of nurses, respiratory therapists and medical doctors. The Navy says they will be assisting and working with the civilian healthcare providers at the hospital to provide additional COVID support.

As of 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 23, IU Health says Methodist has 125 COVID-19 cases.

National Guard members have boots on the ground inside 14 out of the 16 IU Health hospitals in effort to help the strain.

IU Health says they're thankful for the federal support, but say the system is so strained it could use about twenty times the number of military personnel on the ground.

"It's not going to meet near what we would love to see and at the same time, 20 experts will allow us to expand to a great number," said Dr. Weaver.

IU Health says more than 300 employees are out with COVID-19 or in quarantine.

IU Health Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Luetkemeyer says the system has the highest number of COVID patients it's seen throughout the pandemic with 551 patients.

"I just want to put in perspective that we can fill up the entire Methodist Hospital with just COVID patients in our system," he said.

The two Downtown Indianapolis hospitals, Methodist and University, hold around 35 percent of Indianapolis' COVID patients.

IU Health says space has become an issue at some hospitals with patients being treated in overflow areas.

"Our issue downtown isn't necessarily space, but staffing. We are seeing patients waiting for a bed in the ER, we are seeing patients waiting to get into the hospital so we are doing the best we can to address that. You may not get care where you want to get care, at but our goal is to make sure we provide adequate care," said Dr. Luetkemeyer.

IU Health says it desperately needed federal help.

MORE: 'A huge problem': IU Health doctor describes fear of what omicron could mean for Indiana hospitals

National Guard members are helping transport patients, clean, arranging beds and more.

Navy members will provide clinical help.

Although the system is strained, IU Health says to not be afraid to go to the hospital if you need care.

FEMA members are currently ordered to help Methodist for about a month. Teams are learning hospital protocols before fully taking on patient responsibility.

A military spokesperson tells WRTV the decision about how long the team will support this hospital is FEMA-based as they work with local, state and federal agencies.

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