INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Navy is extending its mission to support Indiana’s largest hospital system.

This week marks one month since a 20-member team from the U.S. Navy deployed to help IU Health and the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already approved another 30-day extension.

“The team is still stretched very far. We still see a lot of sick people coming in the hospital and we haven’t seen a significant change in the total COVID numbers in our hospital,” said Dr. Mark Luetkemeyer with IU Health.

Dr. Luetkemeyer is the chief medical officer for the Adult Academic Health Center, which includes Methodist and University Hospitals. He said both hospitals, combined, are currently caring for a total of 209 COVID-19 inpatients.

“From a health system perspective, we’re at 572 today and from a hospital census standpoint, we’re just shy of 800 patients,” said Dr. Luetkemeyer. “And again, that’s about where we’ve been at for the last couple of weeks.”

Dr. Luetkemeyer said frontline workers have not seen a significant decrease in COVID patients nor a hospital-wide census since November. He said this steady, but elevated state of surge is proving to be “really tough” on the hospital system and healthcare teams as a whole.

“And so when the Navy team arrived they offered a good portion of boost,” said Dr. Luetkemeyer.

In December, a 20-person team from the U.S. Navy arrived at IU Health Methodist Hospital to offer assistance to staff during this latest COVID-19 surge. The team consists of medical professionals with backgrounds in family practice, critical care, and surgical procedures.

According to IU Health and federal officials, the mission was only set to last one month, but it is now being extended.

In a statement from IU Health last week, officials write:

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase and hospitalization of COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients progress to all-time highs, Indiana University Health is leveraging all available resources to support patient care and its team members. Last month, the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) accepted IU Health’s request to support staffing at IU Health Methodist Hospital, and last week FEMA approved a 30-day extension of the U.S. Navy’s clinical team deployment supporting the hospital. The 20-person clinical team consists of physicians, nurses and respiratory professionals, and they are integrated into medical units and the emergency department at IU Health Methodist Hospital. IU Health is grateful for this support in this effort to care for the people of Indiana.

“They’ve allowed us to care for more patients, they’ve allowed us to continue to care for beds that we may or may not have been able to staff, and more importantly they’ve offered a reprieve for the team members that they work with,” said Dr. Luetkemeyer.

Dr. Luetkemeyer said the U.S. Navy has been able to fill in staffing gaps – allowing other frontline workers to quarantine when necessary or stay at home on a day off as opposed to working an extra shift.

“Their commitment to service and their ability to help us really in a time of need has been incredible,” said Dr. Luetkemeyer.