Wishard squeezes in more patients

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With more people out of work and without health insurance, you’d expect that the county-owned Wishard Health Services, whose mission is to treat the indigent, would be flooded.

Well, it is, but not any more than usual. Occupancy at its hospital in downtown Indianapolis was 98 percent before the recession and is still that high. It’s just as packed at its eight clinics in the county.

"If you consider us a glass of water, that glass is filled. Dumping more water in the glass, you’re not going to get any more water in," said Matt Gutwein, CEO of the Health and Hospital Corp., which operates Wishard.

But more people have been coming to Wishard. Its inpatient visits rose 5 percent last year. While its outpatient traffic ticked up only 1 percent, visits by mental health patients climbed 6 percent.

To fit those patients into an already-full glass, Gutwein said, Wishard has focused this year on doing more upfront assessment of patients to see if they need to be treated immediately or could wait until later that day—or later that week.

"In the last six to eight months, we are just more attentive to that process," Gutwein said.

Like other hospital systems, Wishard is delaying spending on capital projects. Actually, it’s been doing that for years, fixing things like heating and cooling and electrical systems at its aging buildings instead of replacing them.

"They’re working, but we’re kind of duct-taping them together," Gutwein said. "But eventually they’re going to fail altogether."

Wishard officials say they need a new facility, but are not sure when will be the right time to build one. Wishard has an option agreement with IUPUI for land south of the Veterans Administration hospital. In exchange, Wishard would give the school the land under its current site near West 10th Street and University Boulevard.

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