Mississippi redoubles efforts to manage hospital capacity amid rising COVID-19 cases

Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 9:38 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi hit a record daily number of new COVID-19 cases Monday with 1,251. It comes the same day Governor Tate Reeves extends the Safe Return order and adds stricter measures to 10 more counties.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs issued an order this weekend asking hospitals to activate ICU surge plans.

“The point is to make sure that we prioritize access to care for critically ill folks,” explained Dobbs. “That’s going to be our priority.”

“The other option is that you free up beds by reducing the number of elective surgeries,” noted Governor Tate Reeves. “You can do that by choice at the administrator level or we will come and do it if we have to.”

The University of Mississippi Medical Center had already activated its surge plan before receiving the alert from the state. It requires staffing parts of the hospital not typically used for ICU with critical care nurses and equipment like ventilators to ensure the same level of care you’d find in a usual ICU setting.

“We surged up to an additional 25% ICU beds,” explained Dr. Alan Jones, UMMC Vice Chancellor of Clinical Affairs. “What that means for us is we’re placing ICU patients in hospital settings that don’t normally have ICU patients in them. We give them the same resource and the same care but they’re not in a traditional intensive care unit.”

Dr. Alan Jones says it’s rare to see an alert to activate surge plans statewide.

“Even a natural disaster, if you’re thinking about, it’s a time limited event,” he noted. “Because we’re running a marathon with a mirage as the finish line, we don’t know how long we can sustain this degree of surge. The system is not meant for unlimited surge capacity.”

Dobbs conceded Monday it’s not a long term solution. But said suspending elective procedures that may require hospitalizations did help in creating some bed space in the last week.

“We may be crisis standards of care within the next several weeks if we’re not careful,” Dobbs said. “What does that mean? It means it’s a little bit different healthcare system. It’s putting people in open wards. It’s doubling up rooms. It’s housing people in places that they don’t normally stay for medical care.”

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