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With the entire Indiana University Health System struggling with a workforce shortage and surge in hospitalizations, U.S. Navy personnel are stepping in to assist front-line health care workers at IU Health Methodist Hospital in downtown Indianapolis.
With the entire Indiana University Health System struggling with a workforce shortage and surge in hospitalizations, U.S. Navy personnel are stepping in to assist front-line health care workers at IU Health Methodist Hospital in downtown Indianapolis. (Robert Scheer, The Indianapolis Star/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — With the entire Indiana University Health System struggling with a workforce shortage and surge in hospitalizations, U.S. Navy personnel are stepping in to assist front-line health care workers at IU Health Methodist Hospital in downtown Indianapolis.

The team is comprised of about 20 Navy personnel with clinical experience in treating patients, DOD officials said during a briefing that started at noon Thursday. Their arrival comes as the Indiana and the greater U.S. experience another wave of COVID-19. The Indiana Department of Health reported its first case of the newest variant, omicron, was detected in an unvaccinated individual Sunday.

“ DOD coming in here and helping us with people, which is our most important resource and the resource we are most challenged with at this time,” said Dr. Mark Luetkemeyer, who oversees IU’s Adult Academic Health Center and Methodist Hospital.

Public health officials have expressed growing concern about the variant, warning that is highly transmissible and spreads faster than the delta variant.

Simultaneously, hospitals such as IU Health Methodist Hospital are seeking help as hospitalization surge and are losing staff to attrition, career changes and burnout partly stemming from two years of working during a pandemic with multiple surges in hospitalizations.

“I don’t think anybody in health care, with the availability of vaccines, would have thought we would have gone through three or four ... surges” Luetkemeyer said.

Health workers also are getting sick or being exposed to COVID-19 on the job, resulting in them quarantining away from work and creating workforce challenges. IU officials said about 350 to 360 fall into that group.

The Navy’s clinical team comprises doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists. DOD official said they will assist wherever hospital officials need help, that could mean taking on tasks to help free of IU doctors to care for COVID-19 patients.

The length of the clinical team’s mission is approximately a month long, officials said. However, they will be stationed at the hospital for as long as federal officials deem necessary.

All 16 of the hospitals in the IU Health system are in the middle of a patient surge that began in the fall, Dr. Chris Weaver, chief clinical officer for IU Health said, adding hospitals are operating at 120% capacity with both COVID and non-COVID patients seeking care.

“We are short and our care givers are tired,” he said.

About 551 COVID patients are receiving care across health system, which is seeing a death rate of over six patients per day, Weaver said. IU Health Methodist Hospital has the largest number of COVID-19 patients across the state at 127. It also has the largest ICU capacity.

“If you include our University Hospital downtown, that’s 168 patients so that’s about 35% of the total COVID patients across our health system,” Luetkemeyer said.

The doctors said the workforce shortage is not due to the health system’s employee vaccination mandate.

Omicron, a variant first identified in South Africa, has caused growing concern among world health officials for its ability to spread rapidly and causing hospitalizations to rise across multiple states.

The first U.S. case of the variant was reported in San Francisco on Dec. 1. It was detected in a person who had recently traveled from South Africa.

Indiana reported 4,813 new cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, Dec. 21, the latest data available on the state’s COVID-19 Dashboard. The state had 83 new deaths.

The 7-day positivity rate, which accounts for the period from Dec. 9-15, was 13.4%.

Statewide, non-COVID patients occupied 51.3% of ICU beds while patients being treated for the virus accounted for 36.5%, leaving roughly 12.2% of ICU beds available.

©2021 The Indianapolis Star.

Visit indystar.com.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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