Indiana hospitals are pooling information about critical supplies to help each other meet the upcoming surge in COVID-19 patients, Gov. Eric Holcomb said Monday.

The announcement was light on details and did not spell out how it would make supplies more readily available to hospitals in a crunch for ventilators, respirators, isolation gowns and other critical supplies.

Holcomb, in a rare, statewide address to lay out his plan for dealing with an epidemic sweeping the world, said he was setting up a “health care oriented emergency operations center,” which would be run jointly run by the state, Marion County and the city of Indianapolis.

“The center will centrally inventory and provide support for personnel, supplies like ventilators, masks, goggles, gloves and gowns as we move into the patient surge for COVID-19 phase,” Holcomb said.

The move comes as doctors, nurses and hospitals across the country are begging federal officials to provide more critical medical supplies. Some doctors have said they are being directed to reuse masks and respirators for entire days, due to the looming shortage.

The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association sent a joint letter to the White House over the weekend pleading for more supplies.

“We have concerns that increasingly there are dwindling supplies of N95 respirators, isolation gowns, isolation masks, surgical masks, eye protection, intensive care unit equipment and diagnostic testing supplies in areas that had the first community outbreaks and in many other areas of the country,” the letter said.

“Even with an infusion of supplies from the strategic stockpile and other federal resources, there will not be enough medical supplies, including ventilators, to respond to the projected COVID-19 outbreak,” the letter continued.

Holcomb said his goal is to allow Indiana’s network of more than 100 hospitals to coordinate information about their resources and supplies at a critical time.

“By supporting movement and coordination among all hospital systems, we will not leave any health care delivery system alone in their struggle to take care of Hoosiers—both those affected by the pandemic and those with other illnesses,” Holcomb said.

The Indiana Hospital Association said that hospitals report daily on their supplies and capacity into a system that the state is tracking.

“The state is prioritizing the distribution of supplies that they received from the Strategic National Stockpile by county population to areas with the most critical need,” Dixie Platt, vice president of the Indiana Hospital Association said in an email to IBJ.

The Strategic National Stockpile is a national repository of critical medical supplies, such as protective gear, medical equipment, antibiotics and vaccines.

Holcomb said the move would begin first with five major hospital systems in Central Indiana: Eskenazi Health, Community Health, Ascension St. Vincent, Indiana University Health and Franciscan Health.

“They are all together going to be able to quickly respond to unmet needs and pool precious resources for the state’s well being,” Holcomb said.

Neither the governor’s office nor the Indiana State Department of Health responded to questions about how the system would work on an operational level or who is managing it on a daily basis.

The health department said it received “limited supplies” from the Strategic National Stockpile and distributed those to hospitals and health departments with shortages.

“The supplies received included masks and gowns,” the health department said in an email. “ISDH is working with hospitals across the state to constantly evaluate their needs. This gives us information not just about one facility, but about regions, so that resources can be shifted should it become necessary.”

Eskenazi Health said Monday it continues to work with its vendors to maintain an adequate level of supplies.

“We will also now work through the coordinated statewide effort (the governor) referenced, said Eskenazi spokeswoman Michelle O’Keefe. “We have adequate supplies today.”

Community Health said it faces critical shortages in masks, gowns and other protective equipment. It said it was pleased that Holcomb and the state health department are looking at statewide and citywide solutions.

“We will be working with other health care institutions to coalesce our information on total beds, ICU beds, ventilators, staffing,” and other equipment, Dr. Ram Yeleti, Community’s chief physician executive said. “That can help all of us better allocate resources as the entire city ramps up for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients.”
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