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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

As Memphis area hospital systems report COVID-19 surges, new concern field hospital may be needed

The 400-bed facility at former Commercial Appeal building is on standby; hospitals are again reviewing surge treatment plans.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — "We are seeing a considerable surge," Dr. Richard Aycock with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare said.

Those in the Methodist hospital system are again planning out worst case COVID-19 scenarios.

"It's an alternative staffing model so we can expand into more beds," Dr. Aycock said.

This, as Methodist's total COVID-19 patients more than doubled since October 4th, a number inching closer to the July peak.

"If we don't do anything and it continues to go in that direction, then I think we are going to have issues," Dr. Aycock said.

And that could bring a 400-bed alternative care facility at the former Commercial Appeal building into play, which is paid for and overseen by the state.

A spokesperson said Wednesday, "We share the concern regarding the rapid increase in hospitalizations in Tennessee. The alternative care sites in Nashville and Memphis went through functional exercises the last few months to assure they will be ready if their activation is needed in the future."

That spokesperson added, "These alternate care sites will be opened only if needed, and we do have a plan to staff these facilities in stages in the unforeseen event we may have to open them. Staffing for the site will be done in phases."

The state said it could bring on 115 staff for an initial 45 COVID-19 patients.

"I think it's very unfortunate if we have to use that," Dr. Steve Threlkeld with Baptist Memorial Hospital said.

Baptist, similar to Methodist, reported a sizeable COVID-19 patient spike, 72%, at its two area hospitals this month.

Those at both systems said there's enough available beds for now, as expanded care plans intensify.

"We have been practicing that, where we will take an entire floor and go to a surge model staffing, just so that we know we are ready if it does get to be much worse," Dr. Aycock said.

"Any system, any city, could be overwhelmed by this type of situation," Dr. Threlkeld said. "There's only so many beds in this city."

Near the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, the the Pipkin Building could also be available as a 100-bed triage center for paramedics to take COVID-19 patients. It's overseen by the city of Memphis.

Statement from Dr. Richard Walker, interim chair and program director of Emergency Medicine at UTHSC, and CEO of the Alternate Care Hospital:

"We are concerned that a rapidly increasing number of COVID cases, in conjunction with expected influenza and other seasonal medical problems, could exceed the city's medical capacity and require the use of the Alternate Care Site. It remains absolutely critical for people in the Memphis/Shelby County and West TN area to continue to wear masks and social distance. In particular, the last few weeks saw an increase in most counties around Shelby County in cases in 18-35 year olds, and they now appear to be transmitting COVID to other older family members. Please remember that wearing masks and observing prudent social distancing while avoiding gatherings protects family and friends as well as yourself. While you may not be at high risk, other family and friends may have health risks you are not aware of, and we are seeing this regularly in the emergency departments now. If we fail to slow the spread this early in the winter, there is a great risk of exceeding area medical capacity."