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RICHMOND, Ind. – Indiana’s rural hospitals have faced unique challenges during this COVID-19 surge, and officials say many of them are busier than ever.

Some of these facilities are forced to divert patients an hour or more away if another hospital has room.

“This is bad,” said Dr. Emily Kraft, an emergency medicine physician for Reid Health in Richmond. “It’s not like anything else we’ve ever seen before.”

Dr. Kraft said her hospital is admitting an average of one new COVID-19 patient per hour.

Some patients are forced to sleep in the emergency room, waiting as long as 48 hours for a hospital bed.

“We’ve had patients who have had very critical illnesses that we can’t find a bed for them,” Dr. Kraft said. “And we are calling four or five or six different hospitals.”

At Reid Health’s ICU, which has been full for several weeks, most patients are being treated for COVID-19, according to critical care nurse Samantha Searcy.

Almost all the COVID patients on a ventilator did not receive their first two doses of the vaccine, she added.

“That’s why we’ve seen a lot of death, unfortunately, is because once you get to a certain point on the ventilator, there’s nothing else we can do,” Searcy explained.

Due to the COVID-19 surge and staffing shortages, many health care workers are forced to pick up extra shifts.

“We’re just all very tired, mentally tired, physically tired, working four or five 12-hour shifts a week,” said Stacey Tibbs, manager of respiratory care.

According to the Indiana Hospital Association, the state health department has provided ventilators to some rural hospitals in recent weeks.

“I thought we were done with needing the ventilator supply,” said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association. “A lot of hospitals received them early on in COVID … As it turns out right now with the numbers that we’re seeing, we still needed more.”

With their hospital busier than ever – and the omicron variant just arriving in Indiana – these health care workers say they’re not sure their facility can handle any additional increase in patients.

“It’s the manpower and the exhaustion that our current workforce has,” Tibbs said. “That’s the part that scares me.”

“Last wave, we ordered new ventilators and tried to get other resources in, and we’ve gotten a few, but there comes a point when there’s nothing else,” Searcy said. “We can’t keep doing this.”

As you’re planning to gather with friends and family over the next week, health care workers say it’s important to stay home if you’re not feeling well.

Dr. Kraft said she saw several patients after Thanksgiving who went to gatherings with symptoms and reported multiple other people getting sick soon after.

Doctors also urge people to get vaccinated, and that includes receiving a booster shot if you’re eligible.