Flight nurses flying farther and farther outside Mississippi to find open ICU beds for patients as COVID-19 fills Golden Triangle hospitals

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – The COVID-19 Delta variant is once again causing ICU beds not only in Mississippi but all across the south to fill up fast, impacting all facets of critical care. “The beds are the beds,” says flight nurse Eddie Coats. “If they don’t have them for COVID, they don’t have them for your heart attack (patients) or they don’t have them for your traumatized patients. Coats and the team of flight nurses at the critical care transport service PHI Air Medical, are some of the ones in charge of getting those patients to their much-needed ICU beds and providing any emergency care they may need while in flight.

“Once we get a request, we have to look at the possibility of taking it,” Coats says. “Is it a viable flight? We have weather considerations, weight considerations, distance (considerations).” Coats says that distance keeps increasing. “The requests are coming in from all over,” he says. “There’s such limited intensive care bed space in the Southeast.” In July, PHI estimates their three Mississippi helicopters transported close to 100 patients, flying as far as Nashville to find an open ICU bed.

“We had one today from central Alabama to Springfield, Missouri,” he added. OCH Regional Medical Center ICU Director Jacob Leggett says they rely on teams like PHI on a regular basis. “Whenever we have a patient that gets accepted to another facility, If it’s a critical care patient, more times than not, we’re going to be calling an air service,” he says. Leggett says they rely on them more than ever with the current healthcare worker shortage and OCH’s current lack of open ICU beds. “If PHI or another air service can transport that patient, that keeps our guys here in the county,” he says. “Being able to serve our citizens here, instead of being on the long transport with the patient.” Coats says the number of COVID-19 patients they have transported has increased over the last two weeks and only expects that number to grow. “Towards the peak of COVID, we were transporting quite a few patients with COVID,” Coats says. “That represented the bulk some weeks of our patient transports. We expect, with the trends that we’re seeing with this Delta variant, that we’re going to experience the same type of situation in the next couple of weeks.”

With the demand for their services expected to increase, a PHI team installed a direct phone line at OCH Regional Medical Center Tuesday afternoon so that they can call their dispatcher as fast as possible. They say they’re installing them in any hospital that would like them.

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