Governor refuses to release crucial virus prep info

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As of the end of the first week of his “stay at home” order for Hoosiers, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb still cannot or will not release crucial data that would reveal the state’s level of preparedness for the anticipated surge in coronavirus patients expected to flood hospitals by late April.

FOX59 News has asked repeatedly for Indiana State Department of Health statistics regarding the number of intensive care unit beds and ventilators in hospitals throughout the state.

“We’ll make sure the public knows as we approach the surge that we do know is coming and right now we know we have the inventory to handle where we are today,” said Holcomb during what promises to be his final in-person press briefing at the statehouse for what could be the duration of the declared public health emergency. “When we get closer to those numbers spiking or closer to that peak, we’ll keep the public informed of alternative measures that we may have to take.”

Gov. Holcomb has repeatedly deferred to State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box when asked whether the state would make those statistics available.

“I will never share hard numbers with you because this is information that the hospital systems have put into this and I am going to respect their privacy with regards to this,” Dr. Box said when questioned during Thursday’s statehouse briefing.

Gov. Holcomb tried to pivot away from providing an answer and instead turning to Dr. Box Friday afternoon when he was asked about supplying the hospital readiness data.

“We have to respect agreements that we have in place with the individual hospitals,” said the governor as he was then asked whether such agreements shouldn’t be waived during a public health emergency. Minutes earlier Holcomb extolled the value of an informed citizenry making appropriate personal decisions based on the best information at hand. “We can look toward that,” he hinted, referring to the release of hospital preparedness data. “I want to make sure that we’re not violating any law or agreement with the hospitals.”

With roughly 17,000 hospital beds spread throughout Indiana, the state is divided into ten regions with Marion County and the surrounding suburban counties in Region 5. The governor was asked if he would provide statewide or regional statistics that would not necessarily violate privacy agreements with individual hospitals.

“We are good right now, but we will look to supplying you with regional information that wouldn’t compromise the agreement or the contract we have in place with our hospitals,” Holcomb promised. “We’ll do everything that we can to be transparent, absolutely.”

Dr. Woody Myers, running for governor this year as a Democrat, isn’t buying Holcomb’s rationale for withholding the information.

“There is no reason that I am aware of whatsoever that those numbers could not be released immediately,” said Myers who was Indiana’s State Health Commissioner from 1985-19900. “This is a public health emergency. It’s been declared. That means that whatever the normal processes are, the normal rules and regulations are, that they change to benefit the public’s health. This clearly would benefit the public’s health. Let’s stop talking about it. Let’s just get it down. Let’s make the numbers available now and let’s move on.”

Myers’ comments were echoed by State Representative Mara Candelaria Reardon, a Democrat from Munster.

“We need a full accounting of how many critical care beds we have, how many ventilators we have, what kind of medical equipment we need to keep our medical professionals safe and treat patients as the numbers continue to increase,” she said. “Either we’re completely hiding information that is critical to the way we proceed in this state or we are either lying to the public or we’re caught flatfooted. Neither one of those scenarios is a good scenario.”

Dr. Box was pressed as to why the types of hospital readiness statistics that are apparently easily available in other states have not been released in Indiana.

“As you look at those numbers from those other states, they may be giving you raw numbers, more importantly, they may be giving you percentages, and I think what you need to understand is that even when we say we had this many ICU beds, and when we reach 99% of that, and everyone starts to get extremely excited and upset and worried about that, our hospital systems will be opening up other areas for ICUs. They have other avenues, whether it’s using (Indiana National Guard) ventilators that they use in transportation or EMS or whether that is moving more med surge patients off to another facility that we’ve opened up, all of those things are in the planning.”

Each day top state health officials receive an EMResource report that, according to the ISDH website, “is a web-based resource management and communication tool developed by Juvare. EMResource is used by healthcare, public health, first responders, and other healthcare and government agencies. This system is utilized to monitor and notify changes in resource statuses such as diversions, EOC activations, resource availability, and other information.”

Earlier this week, ISDH turned down a Fox 59 News request for a copy of the daily EMResource report and received the following response:

 “On March 18, 2020, the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) received your request for records pursuant to the Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Specifically, you requested ‘access to data contained within the EM RESOURCES REPORT that is filed on a daily basis with the Indiana State Department of Health…for this date 3/18/20 and information contained within including available bed space, census and capacity, ICU beds, census and capacity, ventilation equipment and PPE on hand, in use, stockpiled or requested/ordered and any other information pertinent to Indiana’s medical care facility status preparedness for the onset of COVID-19 patient hospitalization.’

This document contains financial information that is not required to be submitted pursuant to a state statute. Therefore, ISDH is not releasing it pursuant to IC 5-14-3-4(a)(5).

This closes your request.”

ISDH

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