Mississippi’s biggest hospital expects ‘tidal wave’ of coronavirus patients soon

Published 5:05 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Officials with the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson gave an update on the hospital’s plans for handling the anticipated the influx of COVID-19 coronavirus patients.

“This is truly a historic moment in time,” said Dr. Louann Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs at UMMC. “The impact of this COVID-19 virus is basically unprecedented for the medical center, for our state and for our country.”

Woodward said the hospital’s staff are taking aggressive measures to conserve protective medical gear such as masks and other supplies that have become scarce due to demands across the globe.

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“We are ramping up all of our contingency planning to be prepared for a tidal wave of patients that are about to hit us,” said Dr. Alan Jones, chair of UMMC’s department of emergency medicine. “We have teams that are working literally as hard as they can, all day, everyday, focused on making sure that when this reality comes face to face with us that we have done what we can to get to the point where we’er ready for it.

“We’re getting as prepared as we can, but we know it won’t be enough.”

“It’s very important that you do not come to the emergency department.” Jones said. He encouraged people who believe they may be infected to simply call ahead to avoid potentially infecting others in the ER.

UMMC officials said they will soon have a hotline setup for Mississippians who feel they may have contracted the coronavirus.

In addition to canceling non urgent procedures and changing visitation policies to avoid potentially spreading the virus, the hospital internally is reallocating resources and plans to dedicate an entire floor of the facility to coronavirus cases when they increase.

Hospital officials said UMMC has 93 ICU beds currently and they’re “full everyday.”

The hospital has been converting rooms to negative pressure rooms, which are recommended to help isolate coronavirus patients.

Woodward said the hospital is working on creating its own in-house testing capabilities as testing supplies across the nation are limited. She said the internal testing is not ready to use yet.

Woodward said in additional some members of the hospital’s medical teams are working on creative ways to be prepared in case they have a need for a high number of ventilators. This includes everything from repurposing ventilators that will be unused as elective surgeries are canceled to figuring out ways to use a single ventilator for multiple patients as needed.

“We’re creating one floor where we intend to try and cohort these patients,” said Kevin Cook, UMMC Health System CEO.

I can’t stress enough. This is something that none of us in our lifetime have seen. This is not to be taken lightly. This will affect us profoundly. And, unfortunately it will affect many people that you know personally. This is not just another bad flu season.

“In 50 years, school children are going to be reading about this. That is not an exaggeration,” Jones said. “When we’re talking about (projections) on the order of 200,000 to 1.7 million deaths in the United States, it’s going to be significant.”