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'Our hospital systems are in crisis' | Experts fear worst is still to come as number of Memphis area COVID patients nears record high

Overall care impacted and ER average wait times grow longer as COVID-19 and non-COVID patients overwhelm understaffed hospitals.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Thursday, the Shelby County COVID-19 Joint Task Force outlined a bleak picture with local hospitals understaffed, overwhelmed, and bracing for even darker days and tougher choices ahead as the Delta variant surge intensifies.

"If you break your toe, if you have a heart attack, if you have a stroke, if you have a problem with your diabetes levels, all of those things figure in when you show up to the hospital," Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor said.

The current local COVID-19 hospitalizations are now at a near record level high of 646 - and that's up nearly 300% compared to four weeks ago. The record of 661 patients with COVID was set January 6th.

In a letter signed this week by all area hospital system leaders, they worry COVID patients will double by month's end, and go up six fold by the end of September.

That would be more than the area has in staffed hospital beds on any normal day, meaning staff would have to balance and prioritize which care to provide based a patient's probability of survival.

"There is just a limited capacity to serve. There are only so many nurses and doctors and respiratory techs and all the associated people to care for patients, and when you run out of that capacity, you are left with very few other options," City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen said.

Reported ER wait times now average between 36 and 48 hours, as the overall strain continues to impact overall care for both COVID and non-COVID patients.

"The more unnecessary visits to the ER, the more people that occupy beds in our acute care setting and ICU setting that are there simply for having COVID, the less capacity we have to treat people who are in urgent need of treatment for a stroke, for a heart attack, for a car accident," McGowen added.

Even though a countywide mask mandate takes effect Friday morning, the Shelby County Health Director said at this time, there are no plans to limit capacity at upcoming fall events.

The task force also announced Thursday they are in plans with the Tennessee Department of Health on how to distribute booster vaccine doses to the general public when they are eligible starting in September.

Due to an expected increase in demand, the Pipkin Building will remain open in September and a high-volume vaccine site will also open soon to serve those in Germantown and Collierville. 

August 19 - City of Memphis/Shelby County Joint Covid Task Force Update

August 19 - City of Memphis/Shelby County Joint Covid Task Force Update

Posted by City of Memphis on Thursday, August 19, 2021