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IU Health updates military help with COVID surge at hospitals

A team from the U.S. Navy has been helping at Methodist Hospital, while the National Guard will soon send help to Riley Hospital for Children.

INDIANAPOLIS — Leaders at IU Health shared an update Tuesday on the COVID surge, capacity and staffing issues and military support for hospitals treating COVID cases.

Members of the U.S. Navy are currently helping staff at Methodist Hospital and the National Guard will deploy to Riley Hospital for Children this week.

Inside IU Health hospitals, staff describe the COVID surge as crushing. More patients are coming in sick, more staff is out sick or exposed and there are fewer places to treat people.

"We have turned conference rooms and ambulance bays into spaces where we care for hospitalized patients. That has not been the case before COVID," said Dr. Michele Saysana, chief quality and safety officer at IU Health.

As of Tuesday at noon, there were 553 COVID-positive patients at IU Health's 16 hospitals. Doctors say most of those seriously sick in the ICU are unvaccinated and an average of six people are dying each day.

Methodist Hospital is at 120% capacity. That's where a 20-member team from the Navy has been working side-by-side with the hospital's medical staff since Christmas Eve. The support team consists of 14 nurses, four doctors and two respiratory technicians.

"Basically, they've become part of our team and they've been excellent at integrating into what we do and working with us collaboratively to provide care for patients," said Liz Linden, chief nursing officer with IU Health Adult Academic Health Centers. "It's sort of an all hands on deck approach right now."

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They're easing the burden, for example, in the ER waiting room, which nurses say is often crowded with 50 people. Before the pandemic a busy period would top out at 20 people. Now, car accident and trauma victims in need of critical care are forced to wait a bit longer.

But Navy personnel are deploying in waiting rooms to try to get things moving along.

"The Navy nurses have been a huge help as far as floating around in the waiting room and helping to treat those patients," explained Autumn Bowman, an emergency room nurse at IU Health Methodist Hospital. 

Bowman said the Navy is also helping in hallways, treating emergencies there by necessity.

"Definitely a huge change, because of the amount of hallway patients is higher. There are times when we run out of monitors. Nurses have had to go find beds to put ER patients on," Bowman said.

Six National Guard members are headed to Riley Hospital for Children as reinforcements by the end of this week. The hospital said it's seeing four times as many kids admitted than at any other point in the pandemic and children with COVID are sicker right now.

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"The acuity is worse. More than half the children admitted are spending time in the ICU and at least 40% of those are spending time on the ventilator," said Elaine Cox, vice president and chief medical officer at Riley Children's Health.

Riley is also treating nine pregnant moms who are COVID-positive.

The National Guard team will not only care for patients, but also help with supply chain, environmental services, food services and other areas in need.

Hospital staff, working harder than ever to heal, are still pleading with the public to ease the strain:

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Mask up.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Get tested and stay home if you're sick.

"If you have a cough, if you have a runny nose, if you have a fever, please do not attend an event. Don't attend an event with your family and don't attend the college football championship," Saysana said.