MICHIGAN CITY — Hospitals across Northwest Indiana are now collaborating to avoid bypass, or diversion, or emergency patients to other facilities.

“The high number of emergency department diversion hours in recent weeks has been a problem for all hospitals in Northwest Indiana as numbers of COVID-19 cases have spiked,” said Robert Blaszkiewicz, spokesman for Franciscan Health.

So effective Thursday, hospitals across the region will no longer go on bypass until otherwise indicated. Bypass, or diversion, occurs when hospitals reach capacity, prompting Emergency Medical Services to take patients to alternative facilities.

The hospitals of Franciscan Health, Northwest Health, Methodist Hospitals and Community Healthcare are joining forces to create processes to ensure residents of their community have access to emergency services, a joint statement from the four hospital systems said.

“This move is in response to the chronic high-volume conditions emergency rooms are experiencing across the nation, including Northwest Indiana,” said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association.

“The unprecedented number of COVID-19 cases requiring emergency care exacerbates this situation.”

As of Monday, the ISDH reported 524 COVID-19 patients were being treated at hospitals in Northwest Indiana (La Porter, Porter, Lake, Jasper and Newton counties); and only 7.4 percent of ICU beds were available, with 37.5 percent being used by COVID patients.

A spokesperson for Northwest Health confirmed that Northwest Health-La Porte and the other network hospitals “continue to experience high volumes in their emergency departments and an unprecedented number of COVID-19 cases.”

The bypass agreement is supported by the Indiana State Department of Health and the IHA, Tabor said.

“The Indiana Hospital Association applauds the cooperation among Northwest Indiana hospitals to work together for the benefit of the community.”

He said COVID has put a huge strain on hospitals across the state.

“Indiana hospitals are overwhelmed with the highest number of patients on record and have reached a state of crisis with dwindling capacity left to care for patients,” Tabor said.

“Our emergency departments are seeing 8,500-10,000 visits per day, and at any given point there are several hundred patients boarding in emergency departments around the state awaiting open beds.”

There are ways the community can help.

“One thing to emphasize is that the public should not be seeking out COVID testing at emergency departments, and should go to coronavirus.in.gov/covid-19-testing-information/ to find testing sites,” Blaszkiewicz said.

Tabor agreed, saying, “To reduce the strain on our healthcare workers, our hospitals need the community to help by not visiting emergency departments for COVID-19 testing.

“If you are seeking testing for COVID-19, please visit one of the numerous immediate care centers or testing sites throughout Northwest Indiana.”

“Doing this allows our emergency medical staff to care for our most vulnerable patients,” the hospitals’ statement said.

“We also stand united in urging the community to be vaccinated and boosted against this disease.”

A post-holiday surge of COVID cases has hit Northwest Indiana hard in recent weeks.

According to the La Porte County Health Department, there have been around 1,300 new cases reported in the past seven days, and 10 more COVID-related deaths have been reported.

New cases reported by day included:

Jan. 7 – 202

Jan. 8 – 132

Jan. 9 – 211

Jan. 10 – 140

Jan. 11 – 173

Jan. 12 – 225

Jan. 13 – 165

La Porte County has now had 22,978 confirmed cases and 309 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Health Department.

The county remains in the riskiest red level for COVID spread threat risk on the ISDH metrics map. The county had 1,538 cases per 100,000 residents last week, and an all-test positivity rate of 30.47 percent and rising.

As of Tuesday, the positivity rate was up to 31.5 percent for all tests, and 42.3 percent for unique individuals tested, according to ISDH.

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