IU Health COVID-19 response: Capacity limits mean dialing down elective procedures, shifting patients to deal with recent surge

At IU Health’s hospital in Bloomington, the area’s recent surge in COVID-19 cases has pushed administrators to find ways to make space for new patients.

A month ago in Monroe County, the seven-day average of confirmed new positive COVID-19 cases had settled around 2. That has increased to around 17 at the end of July. Not every positive case requires hospitalization. But those increased numbers have pushed IU Health’s Bloomington facility towards its capacity.

On Friday, MaryAnn Valenta, IU Health’s regional director for strategic integration, said the hospital is responding to the recent surge by reducing the number of elective procedures and transferring patients to other hospitals inside and outside the region. Where they’re transferred is based on “the location that makes the most sense to each patient based on bed capacity.”

Valenta’s remarks came during Friday’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 response with local leaders from the city, county and university.

Early in the pandemic, Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s South Central Region, confirmed that the Bloomington hospital has 272 beds.

But just counting beds would overestimate the hospital’s capacity.

Valenta said on Friday that because the hospital’s room are semi-private—more than one bed to a room—that further constrains the number of beds available for COVID-19 patients. The hospital cannot put patients who are either COVID-19 positive or pending testing results in the same room with other patients.

Valenta said this helps underscore the need for the private rooms that are incorporated in the design of IU Health’s new facility, currently under construction on the SR 45/46 bypass and due to open in about a year.

As of July 27, for IU Health’s south central region, which also includes hospitals in Martinsville, Bedford and Paoli, there were 15 confirmed COVID-19 patients and 50 waiting for test results.

During her Friday remarks, Valenta also thanked Monroe Hospital, not a part of the IU Health system, for accepting patients.

According to Valetta, in the last week, the “daily incident command structure,” which was used this spring, earlier in the pandemic, has been implemented to help deal with operational issues.

Early in the the pandemic, all elective procedures were cancelled. But the recent surge has not yet pushed the hospital to that point.

Whether elective procedures are done is decided on a case-by-case and day-by-day basis, sometimes hour-by-hour, Valenta said, so that additional bed capacity is available for all patients who need it.

Shockney described early in the pandemic how any room can be converted to a negative pressure environment—if they don’t already have such an environment. That means the space is ventilated in a way that lets air flow into the room but not escape from the room, which helps avoid room-to-room contamination.

About the number of negative pressure rooms available. Valenta said on Friday, “For those, we’re fine.”

“We assure you that we will continue to closely monitor our capacity and put all available resources into supporting the needs of our patients, team members and communities, and safety is our number one priority,” Valenta said.

Valenta also reported on Friday that the hospital has adequate personal protection equipment (PPE). The hospital has also hired additional bedside caregivers, Valenta said, which puts the number of bedside care team members at their highest level in the last five years.

Valenta also said the hospital had relaxed its restrictive visitor policies to make sure that family members and friends are able to visit patients. Family and friends are a vital part of the overall care team for a patient, Valenta said.