Mississippi has nearly 1,000 empty hospital beds but no staff to care for patients despite soaring COVID numbers

Published 8:46 pm Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Mississippi health officials say almost 1,000 hospital beds that could be used to treat patients during the latest surge of coronavirus in the state are unstaffed because of a shortage of healthcare workers.

That’s while Mississippi is facing a record number of people hospitalized with the virus — 1,633 on Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health.

“We’re still nowhere near the staff we need for the beds we need,” said Jim Craig, Senior Deputy for the Mississippi Department of Health and Director of Health Protection, during a virtual briefing with press Wednesday.

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Craig said 73 hospitals in Mississippi requested over 1,451 staff members to treat patients. More than 250 people were waiting in Mississippi emergency rooms for beds Wednesday morning, according to health officials.

If those positions were filled, the state could staff 771 medical-surgical beds and 235 intensive care unit beds, Craig said.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency are in the process of trying to contract with healthcare workers to come to the state of Mississippi.

Nurses are the most needed position. Reeves said hospitals throughout Mississippi have lost nearly 2,000 nurses during the pandemic.

Mississippi is one of the lowest-paying states for healthcare workers. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said that is one reason why healthcare workers have left.

“A minority of folks, for very understandable reasons, are pursuing better income,” Dobbs said. “But most people are staying here and suffering through it with the community and sacrificing a lot to save their neighbors.”

Dobbs said workers on the frontlines are exhausted.

“We’re clearly at the worst part of the pandemic that we’ve seen throughout, and it’s continuing to worsen,” he said.