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Riley Children’s Hospital is treating record numbers of COVID patients

Lauren Chapman
IPB News
Of the 32 COVID patients at Riley Hospital, nine are pregnant women or new mothers in the maternity unit, 11 are in the pediatric intensive care unit and seven are on ventilators.

Indiana’s hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with COVID-positive patients. That includes the state’s largest children’s hospital, Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Riley Children’s Health chief medical officer Dr. Elaine Cox said about four times as many children are being admitted to Riley Hospital now than at any other point in the pandemic.

Cox said the children admitted to the hospital are also sicker.

“More than half the children admitted are spending time in the ICU, and at least 40 percent of those are spending time on the ventilator,” she said.

Of the 32 COVID patients at Riley Hospital, nine are pregnant women or new mothers in the maternity unit, 11 are in the pediatric intensive care unit and seven are on ventilators. The hospital’s overall capacity – including for non-COVID conditions – is at 87 percent, Cox said.

“Being the largest trauma center for peds and the only transplant center for pediatric patients, we just have a tremendous number of patients that we need to keep serving regardless of the COVID census,” she said.

To best utilize staff, the hospital has suspended elective surgeries and cut back on services for children, including art and music therapy.

New isolation guidelines for IU Health staff

Riley Hospital is part of IU Health, which is Indiana’s largest hospital system.

IU Health officials sounded the alarm in late December, sharing that the system’s hospitals were at 120 percent capacity dealing with COVID-19 cases on top of other illnesses.

At the press conference on Tuesday, IU Health Chief Patient Safety and Quality Officer Dr. Michele Saysana announced the hospital system updated its protocols for health care workers who test positive for COVID-19.

IU Health staff previously had to quarantine 10 days. Now, staff can return to work after a five-day isolation period if they are fever-free for more than 24 hours, and their symptoms are improving. They also must feel well enough to work, and they need a negative COVID test. The change in IU Health’s protocols follow new guidelines the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released late last month to help alleviate staffing shortages.

“We hope that that will help some of our team members who are either asymptotic or have mild disease be able to return to work to help with some of our shortages,” Saysana said.

While the state of Indiana is dealing with testing shortages due to high demand and a national shortage of rapid test kits, Saysana said IU Health has the capacity to continue testing staff.

As of Monday, about 10 percent of ICU beds were available statewide – down from 25 percent in early November.

Doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists from the U.S. Navy continue to assistat Methodist Hospital in downtown Indianapolis, where they will be for at least the rest of the month.

Contact Side Effects reporter Lauren Bavis at Follow on Twitter: @lauren_bavis.

Lauren a reporter and editor based at WFYI in Indianapolis. She maintains Side Effects' website, social media accounts (which you can follow on Facebook and Twitter) and newsletter (which you should sign up to get weekly). Lauren graduated from Towson University and moved to Indiana in 2012, where she began her career as a newspaper reporter. She reported on health and social services for the Bloomington Herald-Times. Her work has been recognized by the Indiana chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists and Associated Press Media Editors, as well as the Hoosier State Press Association.