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COVID-19 Task Force: Hospitals reaching capacity, considering contingency plans

NATCHEZ — As state and local COVID-19 numbers rise, Mississippi’s healthcare facilities are reaching capacity and local officials are considering contingency plans.

Merit Health Natchez CEO Lance Boyd told Natchez COVID-19 Task Force members Monday that the hospital’s ICU was at capacity Monday with 14 confirmed COVID-19 patients with one person on a ventilator and one person under investigation.

Boyd said the hospital is testing approximately 15 people a day for COVID-19 at outpatient facilities and then 10 to 15 patients a day at the Emergency Room.

“At our peak (earlier in the pandemic) we have done as many as 63 outpatient tests in one day,” Boyd said. “So we are not there on the outpatient side. We are seeing some very, very sick people. Right now we have a full unit, and we have two holding in the ER. We only have eight ICU beds total (one patient on a ventilator).”

Boyd said recently Mississippi’s 75 hospitals did not have any empty ICU beds.

“Louisiana had none. Alabama was not able to help,” Boyd said. “We actually had a stroke patient from within state that had been transferred to Georgia in order to get a bed.”

Boyd said staffing in hospitals is also an issue as hospital staff members are not immune to COVID-19.

Boyd said Merit Health Natchez is working with its sister facilities in the state and the other hospitals throughout the state to meet demands through a statewide network known as MED-COM.

“MED-COM is the statewide network everyone calls in for transfers,” Boyd said. “For example, somebody tried to backdoor call us this week and we sent them through MED-COM. MED-COM was able to get that patient placed to a closer facility than to us. So right now we are all working together to make sure as a state patients are going to a place at an appropriate time and setting.”

Boyd said there is a possibility Merit Health could be overrun with COVID-19 patients and a few task force members questioned whether an additional facility such as the Natchez Convention Center could be utilized for extra bed space.

“There is a possibility of that but it would take resources outside of what the hospital has just to staff that and when you start talking about outside this facility you are talking about facilities that do not have any medical capability,” Boyd said, adding the convention center has a lot of floor space but not a lot of electrical outlets. “At this point we are all working together as a state to make sure we are maximizing the entire state’s resources because it is much better for a patient to transfer to Vicksburg than it is for them to be sitting in a non-medical facility just because of the proximity.”

Boyd said the hospital is back to the same level of COVID-19 patients it was seeing in March and April.

“We are at that same number right now today,” Boyd said. “The difference is in March and April we had nine patients on the ventilator and today we have one so I think it is because of some of the treatments that we are able to do.”

Boyd said doctors have learned a lot in recent months how to treat patients for COVID utilizing various prescription medicines.

Boyd said earlier in the pandemic, New York was looking for ventilators but now hospitals are all utilizing machines known as BiPAP machines that use circuits to help COVID-19 patients.

“With BiPAP there are some circuits that have to be used and as you can imagine, whereas New York was crying out for ventilators back in March and April we are all now crying out for BiPAP circuits,” Boyd said. “That is something that we are reaching out to our other Merit Health sister hospitals for and we are trading and swapping back and forth as supplies demand.”

Natchez COVID-19 Task Force Chairman Dr. Lee England said he believes the economy suffers as cases rise and the best remedy is for people to wear masks in public.

“Right now we are trying to maintain an economy and with the caseload rising, masks are essential,” England said. “I don’t think we will be able to run an economy unless there is a very heavy use of masks. If that fails, then the caseload will rise to the point where a hospital couldn’t handle it and to me that is the point where repeat lockdowns come into play.”

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