Situation still ‘very severe’ at CRH

An exterior view of Columbus Regional Hospital in Columbus, Ind., pictured, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

Columbus Regional Hospital is still feeling the strain of the latest surge in hospitalizations as officials brace for what they believe will likely be an eventual surge of omicron cases.

Last week, CRH recorded the highest inpatient headcount in the hospital’s 104-year history, driven by a flood of patients amid the worst coronavirus wave in a year. Officials say the latest surge has “severely put at risk” their ability to care for patients.

At times last week, patients at CRH were placed in beds along hallways as staff waited for rooms to become available. Nurses, doctors and others were working extra shifts to try to keep pace. The hospital’s intensive care unit was bursting at the seams, with 14 to 15 patients for much of the week.

Since then, the total inpatient census has declined from a record 198 on Thursday to 173 on Tuesday morning — which officials still characterized as “significantly high.”

By comparison, CRH officials said they generally see more hospitalizations this time of year, but in previous years, 100 to 120 hospitalizations on the same day would have been considered “very busy.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations still accounted for nearly 1 in 4 patients Tuesday morning, and 4 in 5 coronavirus patients were unvaccinated.

“It’s still very severe at the hospital,” said Dr. Slade Crowder, CRH vice president of physician enterprise operations and associate chief medical officer. “We’re still seeing incredibly high numbers. We’re still having to care for people in atypical areas where we provide services in different ways than we normally would.”

Additionally, CRH has started “prioritizing” the “most urgent surgeries” because the hospital need “some of that staff who normally would be in (operating rooms) to help care for this high volume of patients.”

The continued strain on the local hospital system mirrors trends seen across Indiana and much of the country and comes as concerns mount over the omicron variant of COVID-19, which has now been confirmed in Indiana.

The omicron variant represented 16.7% of sequenced cases in Indiana the week of Dec. 6 — or 1 in 6 cases — according to the most recent data from the Indiana Department of Health. The week before, the delta variant made up 100% of sequenced cases and had accounted for at least 96% of specimens since the week of July 19.

However, state health officials do not sequence every case.

Instead, they work with labs to test a subset of positive samples from different areas of the state, as well as samples from people who are newly hospitalized or are believed to have a second COVID-19 infection or infection after being vaccinated, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

But in the meantime, CRH and several other local hospitals remain as overwhelmed as they ever have been during the pandemic, officials said.

As of Monday, there were just over 3,000 people hospitalized in Indiana with COVID-19, up from 1,209 on Nov. 6, according to the Indiana Department of Health.