The Investigators: Available hospital beds plummet across Mid-South after post-Thanksgiving surge

Updated: Dec. 21, 2020 at 10:26 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The number of available hospital beds is plummeting across the Mid-South after, what health officials call, a post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 cases.

Health officials in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee are asking residents to avoid family gatherings outside of immediate households out of fear that another surge will overwhelm their healthcare systems.

For a hospital bed to be available, it needs to be open and there needs to be staff to help the person in it.

There is a shortage of both across the Mid-South so health care providers are begging for public cooperation.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of laws and restrictions are put in place. People can get around those by just taking the party to their home and having it there where they don’t have to wear masks and they can be around one another,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, Infectious Disease Doctor at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, families and friends from different households got together for the Thanksgiving holiday and then, infection rates soared.

Data from Investigate TV shows hospitalization rates soared, too.

“If we have another surge after Christmas or after New Year’s like we did after Thanksgiving, it will completely break our hospitals,” said Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee Health Commissioner.

There are more than 2,000 ICU beds in Tennessee but fewer than 200 are available statewide.

Healthcare Resource Tracking System
Healthcare Resource Tracking System(Source: SCHD)

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, only 49 ICU beds are available across 75 counties.

In Mississippi, there are hospitals with no ICU available, including Baptist DeSoto and Bolivar Medical Center.

Shelby County has hit a hospitalization high; more than 90% of all hospital beds are occupied.

Nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors are being infected or exposed to the virus.

“You don’t even have to have the infection to be kept from taking care of other people,” said Threlkeld. “Those kinds of things can be relaxed in emergency situations. We certainly saw that in New York, but that’s the sort of thing we want to avoid.”

Tennessee has received millions of federal dollars to pay for new staff and overtime but what’s needed to deal with this critical strain isn’t available.

“All the money in the world can’t buy more staff. If the staff is not available, that money will only go so far. We’re there,” said Piercey.

If people gather at Christmas like they did at Thanksgiving, seven to ten days later we’ll see an unprecedented number of people in the hospital, state health officials say.

They’re asking people not to gather with those outside of their households but if you do, wear masks at all times.

This will protect Mid-Southerners and allow them to have access to emergency health care, whether it’s for COVID-19 or something else.

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