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Fragile health care system exposed by COVID-19

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hospitals are converting non-traditional space for patients while emergency departments are full and turning people away. 

COVID patients are taking up a lot of space and many hospitals are desperate for staff.  

Brian Dixon of the Regenstrief institute has spent his professional life examining public health. He is not crying wolf when it comes to the shape hospitals are in. 

“In Marion County, in central Indiana, we have a very high burden of COVID-19. It is slightly higher than last year in term of the number of people in beds. These COVID patients only make up one in four of people in the hospital, so they are in there for other things,” Dixon said. 

He says when intensive care units are packed, it creates a downward domino effect that results in a packed emergency department. Dixon compared it to holding a bottle upside down with your finger on the opening: Nothing comes out, which results in patients being turned away or put into hallways for treatment.  

“We have, across the state, about 40% of hospitals are on diversion right now, which means they are not taking in new patients and some of them have been on diversion for more than 24 hours,” Dixon said. 

Going deeper into the numbers, Community Hospital health systems sent I-Team 8 its latest numbers. The hospital has 250 COVID patients right now, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic.  

It is adding beds to non-traditional areas to accommodate the surge. MedCheck and primary care practices have extended hours and non-emergency surgeries are on hold. Health care leaders believe the peak is nowhere in sight.   

Dixon says the pandemic has exposed the fragility of the health care system, and expects changes are in the making. 

“I think it will change health care forever. There are a lot of conversations, you know, looking at post-pandemic, and how we load balance essentially, our health care system because it is essentially a fragile system,” he said.

Dixon says the comeback of the flu and RSV — a respiratory virus common among children that has put a lot of them in the hospital — are only adding fuel to the fire.