Federally-funded field hospital coming to UMMC parking garage to help overflow of COVID patients

Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 1:15 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2021 at 1:37 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - University of Mississippi Medical Center is setting up a mobile hospital in a parking garage on its campus.

The announcement came in a press conference on Wednesday amid a spike in new COVID-19 cases over the last few days.

The hospital is clearing out the bottom floor of Garage B to make space for a field hospital. It will be federally staffed and able to treat up to 50 patients at a time.

“We’re back at this point where no one wanted to be,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC COVID-19 incident commander, vice chancellor for health affairs, and dean of the School of Medicine. “We are concerned about what is on the horizon over the next few weeks and months.”

A state-owned mobile field hospital will be staffed by federal government health professionals...
A state-owned mobile field hospital will be staffed by federal government health professionals when it opens August 13 in UMMC's parking garage B.(Melanie Thortis/UMMC Photography | UMMC)

Mississippi’s hospitals have been sounding the alarm for weeks now. Some relief is headed this way. But they don’t know if it will be enough.

“If there were a bus wreck of kids, we would not be able to take care of all those kids at the hospital,” explained Dr. Alan Jones, UMMC associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs and COVID-19 clinical response leader.

Treatment in the mobile hospital will include IV infusion of monoclonal antibodies, which State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has been recommending in COVID patients.

“What we are planning to do is to deploy the field hospital into the basement of garage B,” Woodward said. “We’ll be getting some federal assistance in the way of manpower. What I have shared with you before is that our biggest pain point if some of our nursing and nursing staff availability.”

“These are federal employees,” said and Dr. Jonathan Wilson, chief administrative officer and COVID-19 incident manager. “The best analogy is similar to the national guard. So, these clinicians have day jobs but they’re also part time through employees that can be activated by the federal government and void in times of disaster.”

But that help isn’t permanent.

“It’s really a band-aid,” noted Woodward. “It’s not the final answer. It’s not really the big solution. The big solution is let’s get this surge under control and let’s get the spread of this virus under control. And the way that we do that is by getting people vaccinated.”

It’s not the first time UMMC has reached this point.

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, leaders set up a mobile hospital to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 between patients.

The temporary unit will be a state resource and help patients who need to be seen by a provider but are not sick enough to be hospitalized or warrant a trip to the emergency department.

Some hospitals in the country are on diversion, meaning they cannot take new patients. “This is our nightmare,” Jones said.

Smaller hospitals in the state are already overwhelmed.

“They are in a bad and dark place that we are all dreading, and we hope we won’t get there,” Woodward said.

It’s unclear how long the mobile hospital will stay in place. That, Woodward says, depends on how long the Delta variant continues to spike cases.

“Are we at the peak? Will it be another month? We don’t know,” Woodward said. “We don’t know the impact of schools opening.”

UMMC, like many other hospitals in the state, recorded its highest number of COVID patients the entire pandemic Wednesday.

“If we track back a week or so we look at case positivity rate, the number of new positives that we’re seeing, the rate of the testing positives, and the rate of hospitalizations based on what we’re seeing,” said Dr. Jones. “If we continue that trajectory, within the next five to seven to 10 days, I think we’re gonna see failure of the hospital system in Mississippi.”

Neshoba County leads the country with the most cases per 100-thousand residents over the last seven day. Neshoba County General Hospital CEO Lee McCall tweeted to the Governor asking for help Tuesday night.

“I’ll tell you this much, I haven’t seen him at my hospital,” said McCall Wednesday. “He was in the county but he went to the fair.”

Another unknown is whether the Governor will extend the state of emergency that’s currently set to expire Sunday.

“What a tragedy that would be in of itself, if there’s not acknowledgement that we’ve got an ongoing disaster in our state that is COVID,” added McCall.

The Governor indicated in his Facebook post that he would make that decision in the next 48 hours.

“This isn’t a political issue,” said McCall. “Yes, it’s spun into one. But you know, it’s time to stop there. We’ve got a crisis on our hands, and it’s time to do something about it. And that’s support your healthcare team in this state.”

UMMC also announced it put in a request for federal help as 70 hospital employees are quarantined right due to COVID-19.

The hospital says it has received a notification that it will be getting federal manpower assistance.

The hospital has empty, open hospital beds that are unavailable due to a severe staffing shortage.

Hospital officials expect approximately 50 emergency personnel employed by the U.S. Health and Human Services. It could be a few weeks before they arrive, UMMC says.

As of Wednesday, UMMC said 126 of its patients have COVID-19, including 21 pediatric patients.

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