Numbers highlight hospital resources stretched thin in Northeast Indiana

Doctors urge vaccinations and other safety measures as important tools to alleviate the problem
Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 9:10 PM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - Hospitals in Northeast Indiana are closer to reaching their breaking points as a flood of COVID patients taxes resources and healthcare workers who are already busy treating other patients.

Data provided by the Health and Human Services Administration shows a growing number of COVID-19 patients in area hospitals along with diminishing capacity as some of those patients present with severe infections. Hospitals have been hesitant to acknowledge numbers publicly since capacity figures change daily. Though Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter has hinted at a worsening situation.

“When I talk to the hospitals, we keep a close eye on that,” Sutter told ABC21. “While they [hospitals] are strained, they’re not overwhelmed at this point. That doesn’t mean they’re not having to be creative in the way they deliver care and make sure they can get enough caregivers.”

Federal government numbers show Parkview Regional Medical Center is close to having the most COVID-19 inpatients since the hospital began reporting numbers to the government in 2020. On December 10, the government reported 173 adults with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections undergoing treatment in the hospital. That’s the most since November of 2020 when the government reported 189 adult inpatients.

Federal numbers collected from hospitals show a surge of patients at Parkview Regional Medical...
Federal numbers collected from hospitals show a surge of patients at Parkview Regional Medical Center. This graph shows PRMC is on pace to have the most COVID-19 inpatients since 2020.(HHS)

It is important to note that many patients are being treated for non-COVID ailments, but the needs of those patients combined with the demands of COVID patients are stretching resources thin. Out of 927 adult inpatient beds at PRMC on December 10, HHS reports 887 of those beds were occupied. That’s a difference of just 40 adult inpatient beds and again, the most occupied beds since the hospital began reporting such data to HHS last year.

ICU beds are also counted in the government data. On December 10, PRMC had 219 staffed adult ICU beds. Of those beds, 194 were being used and 50 of them were occupied by patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. That means only 25 ICU beds were available for new patients at PRMC that day.

Parkview isn’t the only hospital system to be hit hard by an influx of patients. Lutheran Health Network is also facing shrinking resources and space. Referring to the same federal snapshot taken on December 10, Lutheran Hospital had 362 adult inpatient beds. Patients occupied 318 of those beds. Of those patients, 52 had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.

On that day, 96 of the hospital’s 104 staffed ICU beds were occupied by patients. Of those, 19 had confirmed cases of COVID-19. Less than 10% of the hospital’s ICU beds were available to new patients.

Lutheran Hospital is also experiencing tightening resources as patients seek treatment
Lutheran Hospital is also experiencing tightening resources as patients seek treatment(HHS)

Hospitals in other areas of Northeast Indiana

Adams Memorial Hospital is an independent medical facility in Decatur. On December 10, 24 of its 36 adult inpatient beds were occupied. Nine patients were confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19. Of the hospital’s six ICU beds, four were occupied. The data did not show how many of those patients had COVID-19.

At Cameron Memorial Hospital in Angola, 23 of its 34 adult inpatients beds were occupied. Ten of those patients had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections.

The most recent surge in serious COVID-19 cases has placed added stress on other health care providers too. The South Bend Tribune on Monday reported that Goshen Hospital, for example, just transferred one patient more than 200 miles because of the shortage of options closer to home,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dan Nafziger told the newspaper.

IU Health, Indiana’s largest health care system, has requested assistance from the Indiana National Guard. A 20-member NAVY medical team will support the staff at IU Methodist in Indianapolis. No such steps have been taken by Parkview Health or Lutheran Health Network, which dominate the local hospital business.

Both say they are monitoring conditions daily and making adjustments as needed.

“Even with near record-high COVID-19 patient volumes, we remain committed to doing everything we can to meet the needs of our community,” said Dr. Jeffrey Boord, the chief quality and safety officer for Parkview Health. “Our teams constantly assess capacity and operational flow. With rapidly rising COVID-19 activity, we are continuously adding beds and staff to care for more patients than we’ve ever seen in our hospitals before.”

Health measures like mask rules and capacity limits on businesses that were implemented early in the pandemic were meant to reduce infections and thus reduce the impact on hospitals. But with the number of new infections about to eclipse the early waves of the pandemic, and government officials hesitant to implement any new safety rules, doctors say the strain on hospitals is unlikely to let up soon. Doctor Sutter added that vaccines, masks, and social distancing are the best ways to alleviate the problem.

“When we have a big surge like this it’s important for people to change their behavior. So if you’re gathering indoors with people of other households, it makes sense to wear a mask or socially distance cause that’s the way this virus spreads. Unfortunately, it can spread before people have symptoms so just staying home when you’re sick isn’t enough to stop the spread.”

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