Indiana hospitals must begin reporting ambulance diversions to the state health department each day, ending a longstanding secret practice, under an order issued Wednesday by Gov. Eric Holcomb.
The order cites the recent strain on hospitals from the pandemic, and states they must report the number of hours each day they close their doors to ambulances bringing in new patients.
In recent weeks, many hospitals acknowledge they have been diverting ambulances in high numbers, saying their emergency rooms have been overflowing with patients. The problem has been intensified by a shortage of nurses to tend to them, both in the ERs and on the patient floors.
But exactly how often or how long the ambulance diversions occur at each hospital has been a tightly held secret. Until now, no federal or state agency tracked that information, or required hospitals to report it.
A group of hospitals in central Indiana formed a partnership called MESH Coalition (shorthand for Managed Emergency Surge for Healthcare) to monitor and track diversions. But the group has refused to share its information, calling it proprietary.
Some public health experts had called the secrecy a bad policy, obscuring the public’s ability to see whether hospitals were routinely closing their emergency rooms to new arrivals.
Holcomb’s order runs through Sept. 30. It remains unclear whether hospitals will be required to report ambulance diversion information to the Indiana Department of Health beyond that.
Also unclear is how easily the public will be able to track ambulance diversions. The order does not say whether the Indiana Department of Health must post the information online or make it easily accessible.
A spokeswoman for Holcomb referred questions to the state health department, which did not immediately respond to IBJ.
The state health department also issued new guidance, under Holcomb’s order, that changes quarantine guidance for schools and daycares after a positive COVID-19 case in the classroom.
Institutions that have mask requirements that are consistently followed throughout the day do not have to quarantine students, teachers and staff who are close contacts and aren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19.
The guidance applies only to classroom settings and does not apply to extracurricular activities or athletics, the health department guidance says.
Schools and daycares must continue to contact trace by notifying their local health department, as well as parents, teachers and staff who were in close contact.