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Local hospitals face major strains including hospital staff shortage

A local infectious disease expert who's on the COVID-19 Task Force says staff shortages and hospital capacity are the biggest difficulties hospitals are facing.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - Our hospitals are all under the worst strain since the pandemic started.

Record numbers of patients are filling their beds.  

Making matters worse there are staff shortages to care for all those patients.   

“When we see a large the number of cases even during the flu season, we see a large number of cases,” said Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease expert who’s on the COVID-19 Task Force. “There’s always a strain on both the physical beds as well as the staff personnel who staff those beds.”  

According to the health department, 93% of all hospital acute care beds in the metro area hospitals are being utilized, leaving 176 available.   

For ICU beds, there's a 90% utilization rate with just 43 currently available.   

“At present, the hospitals are taking in the patients,” Jain said. “There are rooms in the hospitals to manage. There are also elective surgeries at some of the hospitals which are being stopped or postponed.”  

But the decision about using the alternative care site, the old Commercial Appeal building on Union Avenue, will be made at a higher level.   

“Certainly, it’s the state that decides if that overflow facility the alternate care facility is open or not,” said Jain.  

But it’s not beds that are the biggest worry for Dr. Jain.   

“The real shortage this year is of staff. Not of the physical beds and there are multiple reasons why we see the shortage of staff.”  

Reasons include nurses taking higher-paying jobs in other parts of the country.   

Others are in quarantine due to COVID exposure or they have the virus themselves.   

Dr. Jain urges people to decrease the number of interactions and social gatherings they attend reminding that doing so will help flatten the curve. 

“The Unified Command Group is collaborating and communicating with Memphis hospitals and city officials on capacity planning for COVID-19 hospital patients,” said Dean Flener with TEMA. 

“Opening the alternate care site will be a collaborative decision among state and local officials, to include officials in local and state executive offices and health departments, and those representing hospitals."