Flu season, weather may affect hospitalization rates

2013-03-04T00:00:00Z 2013-03-04T18:16:04Z Flu season, weather may affect hospitalization ratesVanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

With a busier than usual flu season coming to a close, hospitals are emerging from peak occupancy times and preparing for spring.

Occupancy spikes come during flu season, especially when hospitalization is required for those with other health conditions, such as heart disease. Hospitals experience peaks late in the year as people schedule procedures after meeting insurance deductibles, said Marla Hoyer-Lareau, vice president of patient services at Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospitals in Dyer and Hammond.

On an average day, the Franciscan hospitals are busiest between 3 and 5 p.m., because people are waiting to be discharged and new people are being admitted, Hoyer-Lareau said.

"The lowest census tends to be at midnight," she said.

Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Crown Point has 250 operating beds; Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Michigan City has 172 operating beds; Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital in Dyer has 258 operating beds; and Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital in Hammond has 209 operating beds.

"Operating beds" are beds ready for patients, or the number of beds that are available to admit to.

Excluding nurseries, in Franciscan hospitals during 2012, the Crown Point hospital experienced an average occupancy rate of 52 percent; the Michigan City hospital average was 45 percent; the Dyer hospital average was 50 percent; and the Hammond hospital average was 59 percent.

At the Michigan City hospital, daily census spikes are managed by opening and closing a six-room emergency department annex, said Trish Weber, vice president of operations and chief nursing officer.

Methodist Hospitals has 340 beds combined at its campuses in Gary and Merrillville. The typical, average daily census about 87 percent, said Matt Doyle, CFO of Methodist Hospitals.

"This was an extremely busy winter season for us and an extremely busy flu season," Doyle said. 

Beds are filling up faster at the Gary and Merrillville facilities as the health care system grows.

That growth spurt is happening in the Community Healthcare System as well, according to spokeswoman Elise Sims. Upcoming construction will increase their number of beds, she said.

Community Hospital in Munster has 427 beds, St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart has 205 beds and St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago has 182 beds. Occupancy numbers fluctuate on a daily basis, Sims said.

Porter Regional Hospital has seen a bump in patients since relocating in August to the corner of U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 in Liberty Township. The location puts it closer to more expressways, drawing a broader patient base, Porter Health Care System CEO Jonathan Nalli said.

"We're getting a lot more patient flow from Lake County and from LaPorte County," he said.

Hospital officials already are planning for growth, two years earlier than anticipated. Porter has 239 beds and 38 beds in procedural areas. Occupancy varies, Nalli said.

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