COVID-19 wing coming online at one Franklin hospital

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During FOX59’s interview with Dr. David Dunkle, President and CEO of Johnson Memorial Health, he had to repeatedly step out of the way as nurses and construction crews pushed vital medical gear and building materials through the hallway into the hospital’s new Emergency Department.

“We’re working like crazy because people know that there’s more than just construction,” said Dr. Dunkle. “There’s computer equipment, monitoring equipment, telemetry equipment, so its all hands on deck today because we want to get this unit functional as soon as possible.”

“ASAP” to Dr. Dunkle means weeks before anyone expected the ED to be open as part of Johnson Memorial Health’s $47 million construction and expansion project which was still in the final months of completion when hospital leaders went to the builders ask them to step up and get the wing operating before the anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients hit.

“We’ve gone from four days ago with having one patient with having COVID-19 in here to today we have five with eleven other probables,” said Dr. Dunkle, marveling at the speed of even the accelerated construction schedule. “We went from hopefully opening on Monday to there’s an opportunity we might open tonight.”

Currently, Johnson Memorial Health has at most five intensive care unit beds of which less than half are typically occupied.

The ED will be opened as a strictly coronavirus hospitalization wing with 22 beds.

“Because of the way the air is in this unit, we can keep our workers in the proper protective equipment and basically they’ll be protected,” said Dr. Dunkle. “All this air is vented differently from the rest of the hospital. This gives us the ability to keep all the COVID-19 patients, all those people with high suspicion of having COVID, here separate from our patients in the rest of the hospital.”

Dr. Dunkle said the Franklin hospital recently received its latest shipment of supplies from the national strategic stockpile.

“Right now we have 13 ventilators. Currently zero are in use today. Luckily our inpatients are not requiring mechanical ventilation. We are, I would say, adequate on gloves and gowns at this point but we’re monitoring that on a daily basis.”

The hospital is short on cleaning supplies, though Franklin Community Schools just donated its cache.

Johnson County is among the top three counties in Indiana for confirmed coronavirus cases with 36 reported this morning and only behind Marion County with the number of fatalities standing at three.

“Predictive models actually show our peak is not until the end of April, first week of May,” said Dr. Dunkle, “and that’s kind of scary because I can tell you we went from having one inpatient a couple days ago to today literally almost 15 at high risk for COVID-19, four or five known positives in the hospital right now.”

Dr. Dunkle said he fears for the health of his relatively small staff where even taking one emergency room physician out of rotation for a 14-day self-quarantine would severely impact the hospital’s ability to care for its patients.

He also expects that if Marion County hospitals serving the largest population in the state become overwhelmed by the anticipated surge, suburban medical care centers will be expected to handle the patient overflow.

“We have to take a 360-degree view and keep track of where the open beds are. I honestly feel that what you’ll end up seeing happening is I think the city will fill up and I think they’ll be shipping people out to the tertiary hospitals like county hospitals who have capacity.”

Today, four large temporary coolers powered by a generator were spotted in the parking lot of the Marion County Coroners Office on McCarty Street on the south side of downtown Indianapolis.

“We have secured coolers in the event that our office or hospitals get overwhelmed with deaths due to COVID19,” read a statement from the Coroners Office. “Currently, we have had no deaths and the hospitals are doing fine.  There is a possible expectation that there may be a rise in the number of cases, thus there may be a need for these if deaths result from the rise in cases. Currently, we are at 0.”

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