Hospitals set new pandemic record, with 70% of staffed beds in use

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The latest surge in COVID-19 cases is taking its toll on Indiana hospitals, which set a new record over the weekend with 70% of all staffed hospital beds currently in use.

Across the state, 2,408 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Saturday. That’s up from a recent low of 1,209 on Nov. 6, and six times the number of people hospitalized from COVID-19 at the year-to-date low mark of 369 on June 24.

“Between the many health care workers that have retired or left, and the burnout among those that remain, the health care capacity in Indiana … is much lower than it was (during the peak) last winter,” Micah Pollak, associate professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest wrote on Twitter.

Pollak, who has followed the Indiana pandemic statistics in detail and tweeted with charts and graphs on a daily basis, estimated that occupancy of staffed hospital inpatient beds, including all intensive care unit beds, has surged from less than 30% in March 2020 to about 70% on Sunday. The last high was 69% on Dec. 12, 2020, during the height of the pandemic.

As of press time for this article, the health department had not released new statistics for Monday.

The squeeze on available hospital beds is coming from two directions. First, the number of positive COVID-19 case has been climbing since late October, with more than 6,000 new cases reported in recent days.

Second, the nursing shortage has grown sharply in recent months, as nurses are quitting, taking overdue vacations, retiring or moving into administrative positions. Some Indiana hospitals are paying millions of dollars to hire short-term traveling nurses to fill gaps.

Even so, hospitals have not been able to staff all beds, forcing some to take units out of service temporarily. Some hospital officials are bracing for the squeeze and are anticipating a possible extra surge from the omicron variant.

“COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled over the past month and show no signs of slowing as cases are also approaching 70% of the peak of the pandemic,” said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association.

Indiana health officials are trying to stay ahead of the surge, encouraging Hoosiers to get vaccinated, including booster shots for those who are already fully immunized.

The Indiana Department of Health said only 20% of the state’s ICU beds are available. About 53% are in use for non-COVID patients and about 27% are in use by COVID patients.

As of press time for this article, the health department had not released new statistics for Monday.

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