Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the chief executive of Mississippi’s largest medical center, is no longer mincing words about so many Mississippians’ unwillingness to protect their neighbors.
The chief executive of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, long the most outspoken state leader since the COVID-19 pandemic began, delivered a brutal, tough-love message to Mississippi on Tuesday as the state’s hospital system is on its last breath: Get vaccinated. Wear masks. Protect the future of the state. Do better.
Woodward gave the speech as state officials unveiled a second field hospital set up in a UMMC parking garage — a necessity because the large medical center, like every other hospital in the state, has no additional staff capacity to adequately serve the surge of COVID patients. Samaritan’s Purse, a national disaster relief organization, is staffing and funding the second field hospital that will also include ICU beds.
Mississippi, Woodward said, has “failed to respond in a unified way to a common threat” and “failed to use the tools that we have to protect ourselves, to protect our families, to protect our children, and to protect our state.”
Her speech, no doubt, should raise eyebrows across the state with the second-lowest vaccination rate in the nation.
“I want to thank the Samaritan’s Purse organization for coming to Mississippi, and for assisting us in this disaster response. And I also want to thank all of those who behind the scenes made this happen. And everybody — the army of people that have been out in this garage these last few days, turning it into a real thing.
You know, Samaritan’s Purse right now is responding to a disaster in Haiti — a natural disaster in Haiti. But the response that they are responding to here in Mississippi today is a disaster of our own making.
We as a state, as a collective, have failed to respond in a unified way to a common threat. We have failed to use the tools that we have to protect ourselves, to protect our families, to protect our children, and to protect our state.
We have an effective and available, a safe, and a free vaccine that we are not using to its fullest capacity. This time last year in press conferences, we all talked about, ‘Boy, if we can just get to that place where we’ve got a vaccine, we’ll get on the other side of this.’ What I have to say to the citizens of Mississippi is we have that vaccine, we have that tool. And we have not appropriately and fully used it. This where we are. We do not have to be here, but this is where we are.
Our healthcare workforce all across the state is traumatized. We are in trouble. I implore you, if you have not yet gotten vaccinated, please do so right away. It is the right thing to do for yourself, for your family, for our children all across the state of Mississippi, and for the future of our state.
We do not need any mandates to do the right thing. This is a decision each individual can make.
I have spent a lot of time over these last years defending Mississippi to colleagues across the country. And I have done that with great pride. I love this place. This is my home. I’m proud of Mississippi. But our actions this last year are not easy to defend.
I am grateful that there are resources out there, people that are out there that are willing at this point to come help us. I’m grateful for the D-mat team that’s over in Garage B. I’m very grateful to the Samaritan’s Purse team that will start seeing patients here tomorrow. I’m grateful that these people are willing to come in and help us as a state.
But I want to say again, and I want to be as clear as I can be: We are not out of this. In order for October and November to look different than August looks and the way that September will look, we have to do something. And what that is: We have to get vaccinated. Wear masks, get vaccinated. Let’s be responsible for ourselves and to each other. Thank you.”