Area hospitals brace for increase in COVID cases

November 18, 2020 10:30:18 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]

 

The surge in COVID-19 cases that is sweeping the state may finally be arriving in the Golden Triangle, administrators from hospitals in Columbus, Starkville and West Point acknowledge.

 

"We've been following the uptick in cases in the area and across the state," said Jim Jackson, CEO at OCH Regional Medical Center. "But for some reason, we didn't see that increase in hospitalizations that other areas were seeing."

 

That changed almost as Jackson was speaking.

 

 

"We were averaging three to four positive patients a day," Jackson said Tuesday. "Now, as of today, we have six or seven. It could be that we are just starting to see the result of the increase in cases."

 

Jackson said Tuesday marked the first day the hospital has seen six or more cases in a single day since Aug. 17.

 

The Mississippi State Department of Health on Monday reported 905 new cases. Mississippi now has a total of 135,803 cases and 3,581 deaths.

 

The seven-day average of new cases stood at 1,094.71 -- the fifth day in a row the number broke 1,000. That hasn't happened since the pre-mask mandate days of late July and early August.

 

Jamie Martin, chief medical officer at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, said the hospital has seen a surge in cases over the past two weeks.

 

"We were down to single digits for most of September and October," he said. "But here in the last two weeks, we've been seeing the numbers in the 10 to 20 range. The same thing is going on in other places."

 

Jeremy Blanchard, chief medical officer for North Mississippi Medical Center -- where West Point is one of NMMC's seven hospitals in North Mississippi -- said the number of cases has meant shifting patients from one facility to another, based on the availability of beds in the intensive care unit (ICU).

 

"We don't operate as seven different hospitals," Blanchard said. "We have a contracting/expansion model where, if we need to, we can transfer a patient out of West Point to Amory or Tupelo or any of our facilities based on the availability of beds. Even before the surge, a patient wasn't always going to be placed where he may have started out."

 

Blanchard said NMMC has a two-floor area at the system's largest hospital in Tupelo that can accommodate the surge.

 

At OCH, meanwhile, the hospital reported that all six of its ICU beds were occupied on Monday and Tuesday, but that does not mean OCH cannot accommodate more COVID patients.

 

"Currently, we have a COVID unit with 12 rooms," Jackson said. "Those rooms are in reserve in the event of a surge. So we'll be able to handle an increase. Plus there is money available to hospitals to increase the numbers of negative pressure rooms for COVID-specific cases."

 

At Baptist, Martin said there were four of the hospital's 18 ICU rooms available as of Tuesday.

 

"Like most hospitals, the majority of ICU patients are there for something other than COVID," Martin said. "I think the average of COVID patients in ICUs is around 30 percent. That's what we're seeing, too."

 

Administrators at all three hospitals said they are prepared for an increased number of COVID patients but understand the fear it can create.

 

"We understand those concerns," Jackson said. "But what we want people to know is that we've seen higher numbers than we are seeing right now, and we've come out on the other side. We're prepared."

 

Blanchard said the surge in cases should be a call to action for residents.

 

"What I can say is that we'll deal with all this better if people start masking and social distancing today," he said. "It makes that much of a difference. It really does."

 

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