Merit Health Natchez reaches zero COVID patient milestone

Published 4:36 pm Wednesday, October 27, 2021

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NATCHEZ — As of Tuesday, Merit Health Natchez had no admissions of patients suffering with COVID.

That was the news Garett May, who has been at work as CEO at Merit Health Natchez for about three month now, presented to members of the Rotary Club of Natchez on Wednesday at the Natchez Grand Hotel.

New Merit Health Natchez CEO Garett May

May, a native of Clinton, earned his Bachelor of Science and Master’s degrees in business administration and law degree from Mississippi College.

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He went to work in health care administration for Merit Health Central in Jackson and at Merit Health River Region in Vicksburg before serving as chief operating officer at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood.

May was named Merit Health Natchez CEO on Aug. 2.

He said his focus now is to help the hospital transition back to normal operations.

“I consider my job to make sure the frontline staff has what it needs to do its job,” May said.

Merit Health Natchez and hospitals throughout the country have been dealing with COVID-19 since March 2020.

“On March 11, 2020, we gave our first COVID test. On March 18, 2020, we had our first admission of a patient with COVID,” he said. “We have no in house COVID patients as of yesterday (Tuesday).”

By the end of 2020, Merit Health Natchez had performed COVID tests on 3,874 patients and admitted 308 patients with COVID-19.

May said the record number of COVID patients in the hospital — 27 — occurred Dec. 21 and 22, 2020. The only days from March 11 to June 2021 with zero COVID inpatients was June 18-20 of this year. During July and August of this year, Merit Health Natchez admitted 88 positive inpatients and again 27 was the highest number hospitalized at one time during those two months.

Challenges of operating through the pandemic have been many, but a creative staff and community members helped Merit Health Natchez push through.

“We did a lot of MacGyvering. The supply chain has been an issued. We had people in the community who came together to help sew gowns. We got very creative with some curtains,” May said. “You’ve heard how cigarettes to people in jail. That’s what copy paper became to us at the hospital. If you had copy paper, you were sitting on gold.”

Drs. Chris Martin and Geoffrey Flattmann stepped up in the beginning and provided leadership at the hospital, as did a number of key employees.

“This community reached out and loved on us beyond measure,” May said.

As to what the future holds for COVID, “I have no crystal ball,” he said.

May is focusing on recruiting specialists to work in the Natchez community and said he has a commitment of a pulmonologist from New Orleans to come and work in Natchez. He is also working to recruit more primary care physicians and nurses, but said the shortage of nurses and the pay they are requiring makes that job challenging at best.