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Memphis Hospitals Feel Strain of Increasing Number of COVID Patients

Hospitals are filling up with COVID patients.
K Whiteford under public domain license
Hospitals are filling up with COVID patients.
Hospitals are filling up with COVID patients.
Credit K Whiteford under public domain license
Hospitals are filling up with COVID patients.

Listen to an audio version of the story.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are climbing in Shelby County as officials closely monitor the shrinking number of available beds. On Wednesday, ICUs in the Memphis Metro-area were 90 percent full. 

At Baptist Memorial East Hospital, more intensive care beds were recently added as the number of very sick coronavirus patients roughly doubled over the past month. Dr. Jeffrey Wright says the hospital’s resources and staff are feeling the pressure.

“The constraints are often for rooms,” he says. “When there’s a COVID patient in a room, it takes longer to clean them so the turnaround time is higher.” 

Confirmed COVID patients and those suspected of having the virus now occupy close to 40 percent of ICU beds in the Mid-South. Their rising numbers, nationally, have created new shortages for protective equipment and certain medications.

Healthcare workers, Wright says, are also increasingly emotionally stressed. Many critically ill patients require round-the-clock care.

“When you go into one of these rooms by the very act of putting on your PPE, you’re kind of reminded of the fact that you’re getting ready to walk into a patient’s room that has a lethal disease or a potentially lethal disease,” he says. “In some of these COVID, intensive-care unit patients, the nurses literally may be spending nine or 10 hours out of their 12 hour shift at a patient's bedside because they’re so sick.” 

An additional 400 beds are ready for occupancy at a field hospital in the old Commercial Appeal building on Union should local facilities fill up completely, but staffing this expansion would likely be a challenge for officials.

As Wednesday’s testing positivity rate climbed to 18 percent, local leaders are still hoping people will take mask-wearing seriously. Dr. Wright says that the possibility of death is far from the only reason to avoid the virus. 

“We’ve had people that have had devastating strokes who may not recover, who are middle aged or young,” he says. “We’ve had people have significant impact on their heart functions, and then we have an emerging group of patients that are probably going to have permanent lung injury from this and may ultimately wind up needing a lung transplant to survive.”

One of the worst cases of COVID Wright has seen has been hospitalized for six weeks so far. The patient is 22-years-old. “This is a totally different animal,” he says.    

Copyright 2020 WKNO

Katie joined the WKNO team in 2019. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org