INDIANAPOLIS — Hospital representatives, nurses and doctors shared their heart-wrenching stories from the front lines in a bid to persuade Hoosiers to limit their Thanksgiving celebrations as Indiana fights against a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
With a record-breaking 3,040 Hoosiers hospitalized, the weekly state press conference Wednesday dedicated a portion of the one-hour airtime to sharing stories from health care workers across the state.
Sarah Paturalski, a nurse at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, told about the emotional toll of caring for rapidly deteriorating patients and being the stand-in family member to dying patients.
“This pandemic has stretched us and squeezed us in a way that we have never, ever experienced before,” Paturalski, the vice president of nursing and clinical services, said. “Death and dying has always been part of health care; we’ve dealt with that … but deaths in the numbers we’re seeing with COVID is not what we’re used to.”
To help nurses handle the stress and trauma of the virus claiming one Hoosier daily, Paturalski said the hospital system brought on-site crisis counselors to the hospital.
“We are no longer the front line of attack for this,” Paturalski said. “We are the last line of defense.”
Across the state, in rural Seymour, Eric D. Fish, a doctor and the CEO of Schneck Medical Center, said the center could no longer accept patients from smaller, critical access hospitals nearby. Health care workers quarantining after exposure or leaving because of burnout have created staffing challenges.
The staffing shortage means that other, non-emergency care, such as preventative breast cancer screenings, are postponed indefinitely.
Dr. Kris Box, the state health commissioner, warned that if Hoosiers don’t abide by the statewide mask mandate or practice social distancing that cases and deaths will continue to skyrocket.
This week, according to the state’s color-coded map documenting community spread, only one county had moderate spread, 70 had high spread and another 21 had extremely high spread.
“The map you’re seeing now is concerning, but if you look at the cases per 100,000, it’s even more worrisome,” Box said. “With that single metric, our entire state is in the red.”
Students returning from college should quarantine from family members for two weeks even if they receive a negative test result from their university before leaving campus, Box said.
For Thanksgiving, Box urged households to keep celebrations small and wear masks indoors. Family members at risk shouldn’t join big gatherings and long-term care residents, some of them isolated since the pandemic began in March, shouldn’t leave their facilities.
Black Friday shopping and crowded stores are both categorized as high-risk activities by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Box said.