Area hospitals say they're ready for possible COVID-19 surge

June 26, 2020 10:42:49 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


A day after the state health director warned that Mississippi's health care system could be overwhelmed by the effects of COVID-19 in the fall, local hospital officials said they are equipped for a surge in their communities.


On Tuesday, when the state reported its highest number of new cases (611) and current hospitalizations (523) since the pandemic began, State Health Director Dr. Thomas Dobbs told the Associated Press the recent trends, if unchecked, "is the biggest public health threat in a century."


The number of new cases ballooned Wednesday to 1,092, which only served to amplify Dobbs' concerns.



"We've been seeing this trend evolving over weeks. As people have tried to embrace normal, but unsafe normal, it is permitting the virus to spread, "Dobbs said. "We're really going to end up paying the price for it."


Officials at both Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in Columbus and OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville said that while their hospitals aren't experiencing the increased number of patients seen in other parts of the state, they are bracing for the expected surge Dobbs predicted Tuesday.


"Our numbers here had been up for the last two or three weeks, but are starting to trend down now," said Baptist Golden Triangle's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jamie Martin. "We're heading in the right direction."


OCH CEO Jim Jackson said demand for ICU beds remains below capacity.


"Our capacity right now is 15 beds," Jackson said in an emailed statement to The Dispatch. "Our daily average census for positive COVID patients fluctuates between 8 and 12 per day."


Although neither hospital has seen a significant increase in COVID-19 patients so far, both said they are planning for the major surge Dobbs predicted and had plans in place to meet the challenges.


"If you will remember, we were expecting the surge to come in April," Martin said. "We had a surge plan put in place to address that surge, but as you know, it didn't happen. Our surge plan is still in place and I think in a lot of ways we're better prepared now than we were back in the spring because we've had the experience of dealing with coronavirus patients for all these months. We feel like our surge plan will be more than adequate."


Jackson said OCH should have the facilities capacity to meet the surge.


"Our capacity constraint is not the facility," Jackson said. "In fact, we have the whole third floor available. The limiting factor is staffing, which can change/flex on a daily basis, just like all the hospitals in the state."


Both Martin and Jackson said there are contingencies in place to transfer patients to other hospitals should caseloads reach the point of overwhelming their ability to treat patients.


"We're a part of a big hospital system, with 22 hospitals," Martin said. "That not only gives us the ability to transfer patients to other facilities as needed, but it also helps in terms of supplies and equipment. We're not concerned about being short of PPEs (personal protective equipment) or even ventilators."


Jackson said his hospital also has a plan should demand for care exceed its ability to provide it.


"Should we reach maximum capacity, we would be on diversion and work with other area hospitals to transfer patients that require an admission," Jackson said. "We have recently agreed to receive a COVID patient from another hospital that had reached their maximum capacity and/or lacked staff. Nursing administration is doing all they can to recruit, train and retain nursing staff to meet our anticipated patient demand, both COVID and non-COVID."


Both Martin and Jackson stressed that the majority of cases do not require hospitalization.


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]