JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's five largest hospitals had no Intensive Care Unit beds available for patients as of Wednesday because of a surge in coronavirus cases, officials reported Thursday. An additional four hospitals had five percent or less available.
“I was woken up by a phone call yesterday morning at 4 a.m. because we had so many patients at our hospital, we didn’t know where to put them,” Vice Chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center Alan Jones said Thursday.
Mississippi has one of the fastest-growing rates of new coronavirus cases in the country. One county, Grenada, saw a 22% increase in reported cases from last week to this week. Simpson County saw an 18% increase.
Compounding that, Mississippi also is one of the states with the fewest health care resources in the country, and hospitals are already stretched thin, a panel of medical officials said at a news conference Thursday. On June 15, the Mississippi Department of Health was reporting 467 patients hospitalized for the coronavirus. Just a few weeks later, on Thursday the state reported 686 confirmed coronavirus patients were hospitalized and 255 suspected coronavirus patients.
"Our biggest medical institutions, who take care of our sickest patients, have no room,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said.
This shortage has impacted facilities’ ability to not only care for patients with the virus but other emergency patients as well. The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson is the only hospital in the state that cares for major trauma victims and transplant patients, for example. UMMC emergency care doctor, Ustav Nandi, said the hospital is no longer able to accept transfers of patients from other hospitals who are suffering from ailments such as strokes or heart attacks.
“We are gravely concerned," Nandi said. "While I know COVID-19 is on the forefront of everyone’s minds right now, other diseases have not taken a backseat during this pandemic. We want to be there so that we can take care of our patients when they come in for emergencies: heart attacks, strokes, sepsis, trauma, other infections.”
Dobbs said facilities have begun sending patients out of state for care.
“There are already medical harms happening now, people with adverse health outcomes because they can't access the healthcare they need because they can't get to a hospital,” he said.
Dobbs said he only expects the situation to get worse. As the number of cases has risen, demand for testing has increased. Two months ago, 150 people a day were making appointments to be tested at the Department of Health's free testing site. On Wednesday, the state tested 875 people.
Mississippi consistently ranks as one of the lowest states in national evaluations of healthcare access and outcomes.