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Indiana hospitals see record patient count amid virus surge

December 9, 2021 GMT
FILE - Indiana Hospital Association President Brian Tabor speaks with reporters on March 2, 2020, at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. Indiana hospitals are seeing their highest-ever overall patient counts amid a monthlong COVID-19 surge and the state’s largest hospital system has enlisted National Guard assistance. (AP Photo/Tom Davies, File)
FILE - Indiana Hospital Association President Brian Tabor speaks with reporters on March 2, 2020, at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. Indiana hospitals are seeing their highest-ever overall patient counts amid a monthlong COVID-19 surge and the state’s largest hospital system has enlisted National Guard assistance. (AP Photo/Tom Davies, File)
FILE - Indiana Hospital Association President Brian Tabor speaks with reporters on March 2, 2020, at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. Indiana hospitals are seeing their highest-ever overall patient counts amid a monthlong COVID-19 surge and the state’s largest hospital system has enlisted National Guard assistance. (AP Photo/Tom Davies, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana hospitals are seeing their highest-ever overall patient counts amid a monthlong COVID-19 surge and the state’s largest hospital system announced Thursday it had enlisted National Guard assistance.

Indiana University Health said it sought the support of the six-person National Guard teams for most of its 16 hospitals across the state because the strain on its “team members, nurses and providers has never been greater.”

The IU Health system isn’t alone as the number of COVID-19 patients in Indiana hospitals has more than doubled in the past month, with about 2,750 such patients as of Wednesday as about 30 people a day are dying from the illness, according to state health department tracking.

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That has contributed to the state’s total hospitalized patient count reaching its highest-ever level by reaching about 12,000 and climbing this week, according to the Indiana Hospital Association.

The current surge might not peak for another month and hospitals are also seeing more patients with other serious illnesses at a time when they also face a crunch of health care workers, said Brian Tabor, the hospital association’s president.

’We’re viewing this as an extremely serious situation inside the walls of hospitals, but it’s not just a COVID issue,” Tabor said. “What COVID is doing is kind of taking up the slack that’s built into the system.”

The average Indiana hospital patient count has been about 10,000 over the past five years, with the previous peak of about 11,500 in early 2018 when Indiana faced a widespread flu outbreak. Indiana’s total patient count is some 500 more than a year ago when the state was in the midst of its worst COVID-19 surge and about 3,400 people were hospitalized with the disease, the hospital association said.

The Indiana National Guard began offering the six-person teams that include two medics and four support staffers to hospitals earlier this year, with teams being dispatched in September to hospitals in Indianapolis, Evansville, Jeffersonville, Gary and Merrillville.

Indiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are now higher than Indiana’s summer surge that peaked in September and are approaching the pandemic peak reached in late 2020. The surge has also pushed up Indiana’s average of COVID-19 deaths to more than 30 per day after it was below five a day in July.

Health officials have urged more people to get the COVID-19 vaccination shots as Indiana has the country’s 10th lowest rate for fully vaccinated population at 51.1%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine rural counties scattered around the state have vaccination rates below 40%.

Dr. Paul Calkins, IU Health’s associate chief medical executive, said the system has been delaying many scheduled surgeries as it faces the crush of more patients.

“Pretty much all of our emergency departments have people who are holding in them because there’s no room in the hospital at the moment,” Calkins said. “That means that people that come in with really any disease, particularly non COVID illness, they are going to be backed up. We’re delaying a lot of surgeries, probably several thousand.”