“We need help,” IU Health caring for record-breaking 551 COVID patients, U.S. Navy steps in


INDIANAPOLIS — A 20-person team from the U.S. Navy is lending a helping hand at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

According to IU Health and federal officials, the team will offer assistance for the next month with the possibility of an extension if necessary.

“Our role is to do as best we can to support our frontline caregivers and give them all the support that we can potentially or possibly give them,” said Dr. Mark Luetkemeyer, VP and Chief Medical Officer, Adult Academic Health Center, Indiana University Health. “But we need help. And that’s what you’re seeing with us reaching out to FEMA and the Department of Defense.”

As of Thursday December 23, frontline workers with IU Health are treating 551 COVID patients across all 16 hospitals – the highest inpatient total since the pandemic began.

“In addition to [COVID19 patients], we’re very busy with all other illnesses as well. We have a total [capacity] of over 2,020 [across all hospitals] and it’s 2,028 today,” said Dr. Chris Weaver, Senior VP and Chief Clinical Officer at Indiana University Health.

“Currently, Methodist [Hospital] does have the largest number of COVID patients across the system. We’re at 127,” said Dr. Luetkemeyer. “If you include our University Hospital downtown, that’s 168 patients. So that’s about 35% of the total COVID patients across our health system.”

IU Health is also seeing a high death rate of over six patients a day across the health system. To complicate matters further, officials said the hospital is also running low on life-saving antibody treatments.

“The demand for antibody treatments is definitely going up with this most recent surge,” said Dr. Luetkemeyer. “We do not have enough antibody treatment to treat everybody that would need it so we are looking at restricting a little bit of that criteria to those who may benefit most from them.”

Dr. Luetkemeyer said officials have discussed the possibility of restricting the time frame in which somebody is eligible for the antibody treatments, as well as making sure that the treatments are strictly given in an outpatient setting.

“I don’t think anybody in health care – with the availability of vaccines – would have thought that we would have gone through three or four persistent surges here and that that takes a significant toll on our team members,” Dr. Luetkemeyer said.

Lieutenant Commander Michael Gibboney with U.S. Navy Medical Response Team said, right now, the team is beginning the integration process into the hospital — working hand in hand with the staff to learn their system, procedures, and protocols.

“When our team feels that it is in the best interest of patient care and when the hospital agrees that we’re ready to be integrated fully into the system that’s when we proceed with beginning our whole mission and begin to treat patients as part of the team,” said Gibboney.

The 20-person team consists of medical professionals with backgrounds in family practice, critical care, and surgical procedures.

“Our team is here to assist in any way possible,” said Gibboney. “We’re very proud to be here. We have the expertise needed to increase patient care to this hospital. So however they need to utilize us, whether it is freeing up some of their staff to treat COVID patients, whether it’s in direct patient care with COVID patients, we’re here to support the facility.”

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