JACKSON — The Mississippi Health Department on Tuesday ordered all hospitals in the state to allow the transfer of critically ill patients, an effort to help people in rural areas receive care as the state continues to see a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases.
The order applies to the transfer of patients who have had a heart attack or stroke; those who need immediate neurosurgical intervention, such as people severely injured in car crashes; transplant patients who are experiencing complications; and patients who need to be on a ventilator but are in a hospital without an intensive care unit, respiratory therapy or a ventilator.
A system called Mississippi MED-COM will direct patients to places with available space and resources, the department said. The transfer order will remain in place until Jan. 23, unless it is revoked it before then.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center regularly receives transfer patients from smaller hospitals. Officials there said Tuesday that the medical center is stretched because of short staffing. Part of the shortage is because of vacant jobs, and part is because employees are out after testing positive for COVID-19.
UMMC has had to close more than 50 beds in recent days because it does not have enough nurses or other staff, said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the center’s vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the school of medicine.
“We don’t have enough staff to open up all the beds that we have,” Woodward said. “Earlier in this pandemic, we had staff and needed resources to help open additional beds, and we did. Now, we have beds but no staff.”
The state Health Department reported Tuesday that more than 1,200 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across Mississippi as of Monday. That is nearly five times as many as were hospitalized with COVID-19 three weeks earlier.