U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) wanted to hear firsthand the issues health care leaders in her 5th District are facing, so she determined a March 22 virtual roundtable would be a good start.
The first portion was shared with the media before the roundtable continued with a private session.
“I plan to work on health care at the federal level,” Spartz said. “I always like to hear from the ground. I would be happy to visit your facilities to meet with your staff or (hold) town halls, whatever is good for you. I truly believe it’s important to hear what is happening on the ground and what issues are challenges. The best solutions come from the ground.”
Julie Manas, regional president of Ascension St. Vincent North Region, said after the first peak of COVID-19 cases in March and April 2020, the cases peaked at St. Vincent again in the middle of December 2020.
“No doubt I speak for all of us when I say what we’ve been through this last year is nothing short of awe inspiring,” Manas said. “The things that our staff, our physicians and associates have faced is insurmountable at times. We’ve come together and the community has supported us.”
Manas said there are less than 30 COVID-19 patients across St. Vincent hospitals in Indiana.
“In the hospitals I have, including Kokomo, I think we have eight positive (COVID cases) right now. That’s compared to at times we had as many as 250 positive patients,” Manas said.
Manas said officials are watching their Ascension hospitals In Michigan, which are starting to see another spike in cases. Spring and Easter break also might create a concern with travel and gatherings.
“We are getting the message out about mask compliance and physical distancing, getting vaccinated when anyone is eligible,” Manas said.
Ascension St. Vincent has four of the state’s 468 vaccination sites. Through March 21, Manas said 1.4 million doses have been given across Indiana, including 123,000 at St. Vincent. Approximately 950,000 are fully vaccinated.
Manas, who serves on a national board, said the rollout hasn’t gone quite as smooth in other states.
“Sixteen percent of the Indiana population is vaccinated, and that compares to 10 percent nationally,” she said.
Manas said Indiana is seeking to vaccinate the harder-to-reach population, such as the homeless, illegal immigrants and those with transportation issues, with the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine.
Jean Putnam, Community Health Network’s executive vice president and chief nursing officer, said Community has given more than 66,000 vaccines at its hospitals, rehab hospitals and outreach clinics.
“When every week honestly seemed like a year last year, I am proud to say we are in single digits for confirmed positive COVID patients,” Putnam said. “That doesn’t mean any of us are letting up on precautions. We are concerned about the variants. We still have a lot of people to vaccinate, and we need to prevent that spread.”
Putnam said amid the pandemic, many Community Health Network nurses left the profession, leaving a critical nursing staff shortage in their wake.
“I have a need for more than 250 nurses right now,” she said. “If it weren’t for our current nurses picking up hours and always making sure we can provide a safe environment, we would be in desperate situations. We have to make sure we are funding education and school needs to get people into health care professions. We’ve gotten creative. We’ve hired a lot of college interns to fill in and help staff our vaccine clinics. A lot of our administrative staff, myself included, have worked vaccination sites.”
Doug Puckett, president of IU Indianapolis Health Suburban Region, said there are 79 COVID-19 cases at IU Health but only four are at hospitals in Spartz’s 5th District.
“The teams did a fantastic job, but we are seeing them getting burned around the edges right now with the constant wear and tear of the time they are putting in and patients they are caring for,” Puckett said. “We are doing things to create environments to get refreshed and rejuvenate themselves both on and off site.”
Puckett said IU Health also is seeing several team members leave the industry and that will be an ongoing challenge.