National Guard members and Indiana Department of Health staff have begun arriving in Wayne County to aid with a surge of COVID-19 illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths as hospitals struggle to treat patients for other urgent health needs.

Henry Community Health officials say the “never-ending COVID nightmare continues to worsen” as Indiana hospitals set records for their numbers of patients.

In addition, some patients who delayed primary care for other health issues as the pandemic lingers are now critically ill, HCH officials said.

National Guard members are being stationed at Reid Health to assist with staffing shortages, and what the state calls a strike team will bring a free mobile testing and vaccination site starting Wednesday, Jan. 5 to Richmond’s west side for any area resident.

Temporary clinic open for 4 days
A state strike team is bringing a mobile testing and vaccination clinic to Wayne County Fairgrounds for four days. It will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5, through Saturday, Jan. 8.

Officials had first announced the clinic as being a drive-thru operation at Tom Raper Center, but Wednesday, they noted because of cold temperatures and high winds, it would be a walk-in service.

“As the nation, the state and Wayne County feels the crush of cases hit us from the Omicron variant, we wanted more resources for our community for vaccinations and testing options,” said Christine Stinson, executive director of Wayne County Health Department.

“We just wanted to get as much testing and vaccine offered whenever we can,” she said. “Cases are exploding, as expected, as is the demand. So, we wanted to make sure there was plenty of testing of options for people this week.”

Area residents can get a test, a vaccination or a booster dose at no charge this week. Those who have insurance are asked to bring their card if possible so that the state can be reimbursed for an administrative fee.

  • Boosters are strongly recommended for those who are:
    • 16 and older and completed their primary vaccination series of Pfizer at least 5 months ago.
    • 18 and older and completed their primary vaccination series of Moderna at least 6 months ago or completed their primary vaccination of Johnson & Johnson at least 2 months ago.

“This mobile vaccination site is one more way we are working to give all Hoosiers convenient access to COVID-19 vaccine in their communities,” said Dr. Kris Box, state health commissioner, in a news release. “I encourage everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated yet to take advantage of this safe, effective vaccine, which is the best protection we have against this virus.”

IU Health offers free rides to any vaccine site in the state. If you need transportation to your vaccine appointment anywhere in the state, call 1-888-IUHEALTH (1-888-484-3258) and choose option 9.

National Guard arrives
“We’re at our breaking point,” a graphic on Reid Health’s Facebook page noted. The post said that hospitals are taking in more patients than they have beds, and residents can get vaccinated or boosted, tested and masked to help.
National Guard members arrived Thursday to offer help in clinical and support roles over the coming weeks.
Ryan Williams, director of EMS, Forensics, and Trauma Services for Reid, welcomed the team’s arrival.
“We are so grateful for the assistance of the National Guard in helping us through this time of crisis,” Williams said in a news release. “They will allow us to shift a small part of the incredibly large workload being carried by our team members.”
Reid Health officials have previously noted the health system has not implemented its own vaccine requirement for employees, and that a federal requirement to vaccinate health workers has been put on hold.
Guard members who arrived in Richmond have been bouncing from hospital to hospital since August, lending help wherever possible.
Meanwhile, 13 IU Health hospitals and Union Health are among those that have welcomed Guard members in recent weeks. Federal health officials also sent a team from the U.S. Navy to IU Health Methodist Hospital last week.
And, in nearby Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine has called up about 2,300 National Guard members to help with COVID-related hospital staffing shortages in that state.
Reid’s number of patients requiring acute care has doubled during this latest surge in COVID-19 cases, the release noted. That has doubled the need for staff in high-acuity areas of the hospital, creating staffing shortages.
According to Indiana Department of Health, only about 9 percent of ICU beds around the state were available as of Dec. 29.
District 6, which includes Wayne County and neighboring counties has even fewer beds available — just more than 3 percent.
“The presence of the Guard won’t be enough to make up for staffing needs, but their work here and at other hospitals is an example of how everyone can play a role in bringing this emergency to an end,” the release noted.

Henry Community Health ‘bursting at the seams’
Henry Community Health, like almost every Indiana hospital, is bursting at the seams with sick patients, a news release noted.
“We are experiencing the perfect storm of a high volume of critically ill patients coupled with severe staffing shortages,” said Paul Janssen, HCH president and CEO, in the release. “Staffing was better during the first surge in 2020. We were able to pull staff from offices and departments that were shut down. That is not the case this time around.”
The influx of critically ill patients and staffing shortages has Henry Community Health on the brink of a healthcare crisis, said Luci Welch, public relations director.
HCH is concerned about anyone who is sick and requiring hospitalization under these conditions, Welch said, because it can be difficult for them to receive care.
HCH continues to postpone necessary elective surgical procedures every day, which negatively impacts patients’ health.
Welch said it also is difficult to transfer critically ill patients to other hospitals due to high census and staffing shortages at those hospitals.
Getting vaccinated and pursuing primary care for other health issues can help reduce the strain on hospitals, Welch said. Last week, unvaccinated COVID-positive patients filled an average of 17 beds at the New Castle hospital each day.
She said HCH also has several sick patients who skipped their primary care appointments throughout the pandemic and are now critically ill.
Welch asks all vaccinated or unvaccinated area residents to wear a mask in public, avoid gatherings (and outings unless necessary), social distance, wash hands frequently and follow CDC guidelines for isolation and quarantine if exposed.
“We can curb the spread and lighten the load on our healthcare system by using these proven mitigation tactics,” she said.

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Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.