North Mississippi Medical Center finding ways to overcome lack of ICU beds but doctor uncertain how long that will last

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TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – North Mississippi Medical Center continues to be in a constant state of full capacity in regard to their ICU beds. 

As of Friday afternoon, just one of their 46 ICU beds was available.

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“If it didn’t get worse, we could hang in there for a while,” said NMMC System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jeremy Blanchard. “If it gets worse, we’re going to be in trouble.”

 That’s the situation NMMC and other facilities across the state are facing with Mississippi COVID-19 hospitalizations at an all-time. 

 “Because we’re so overwhelmed, you don’t have to have an ICU bed available for us to receive a patient,” Dr. Blanchard said. “We actually only have to have the sub-specialty care that the patient needs and then we house them in the [Emergency Department] until we can get a bed.”

 In Tupelo, NMMC says they have housed up to 30 COVID and non-COVID patients together in their Emergency Department.

North Mississippi Health Services currently has 116 positive COVID-19 inpatients across all their facilities, the highest number yet during the pandemic.

As of Friday, NMMC reported 70 total COVID-19 patients. Dr. Blanchard says the main challenge is not just the number of beds, but providing everything else needed to treat the patients who require them. 

“When you look at what it takes to care for an ill patient, it takes a bed that they go in, all of the blankets and things, it takes the appropriate monitoring equipment, appropriate amount of oxygen, the appropriate amount of medications,” he said. “And in COVID patients, the appropriate breathing tools.”

Dr. Blanchard says one of their solutions has been to move patients who only require swing beds to long-term care facilities.

“It’s a type of bed where you don’t need real acute care but you need some care,” he explained. “We used to have some of those in our community hospitals, now we move them out to the long-term care centers because they had capacity.”

They are also using the option of home healthcare as a resource. 

“We actually have developed a lot of relationships with home healthcare companies as well as with oxygen companies so many patients don’t have to be admitted that were admitted early on,” Dr. Blanchard said. “We actually can send them home with oxygen, we can follow them with nurses at home.”

While these methods have worked for NMMC and NMHS so far, Dr. Blanchard is uncertain how long that will continue.

“To move our medical surgical COVID patients and non-COVID patients among our seven hospitals has allowed us to handle it up to this time,” he said. “How long is it sustainable? I really can’t answer that because part of the challenge is healthcare workers get sick too.” 

Dr. Blanchard is continuing to call on Governor Tate Reeves to consider crisis standards of care for all Mississippi hospital and says that ultimately, getting everyone the vaccine is the key.