Boone County Health Officer Dr. Herschell Servies said Witham Health Services had one available ventilator as of Dec. 7 when he spoke to the county’s commissioners at their morning meeting.
Servies said the hospital had six patients using ventilators at the time he spoke. Like available ICU beds for COVID-19 beds, he said the number of available ventilators fluctuates daily, or even hourly. He said the hospital is trying to obtain more.
In addition, Servies said Witham can only conduct 700 COVID-19 tests a week under its testing agreement with Indiana University due to limited supplies. As a result, he said the hospital is prioritizing symptomatic patients for testing, which requires a doctor’s note at its testing site at the Boone County 4-H Fairgrounds.
“A couple weeks ago, we were doing close to 700 or 800 (tests) a week,” Servies said during the meeting. “IU wanted to cut us down to 500 tests a week because everybody’s running out of testing (supplies). We did get that changed to 700 a week. That’s why we’ve remained at the position of trying to only test symptomatic people, trying to cut back a little bit, trying to save some of these testing (supplies). And it’s not just us, it’s across the country.”
The scarcity of resources reflects the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted on the hospital. Health officials have said the staff is stretched to cover for nurses and other staff members who have either needed to quarantine because they contracted COVID-19 or because they have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the disease.
Servies said Witham has periodically been on diversion – sending ambulances to other facilities – for three weeks. Diversion has become widely practiced at Indiana hospitals as hospitalizations have increased and facilities struggle to care for more patients. As of Dec. 7, 3,250 Hoosiers were hospitalized with COVID-19. During spring, the highest number of Indiana residents hospitalized with the disease at any one time was 1,799.
“For the past six weeks, we’ve had more and more positive (cases),” Servies said. “The hospital continues to be very busy.”