How limited number of ICU beds in Mississippi impacts rural hospitals amid rising COVID-19 cases

LOUISVILLE, Miss. (WCBI) – On Tuesday, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported the highest number of patients in hospitals and ICUs due to COVID-19 since August.

Those numbers have been trending upwards since October and are limiting the number of open ICU beds across the state.

That is putting increased pressure on smaller rural hospitals like Winston Medical Center in Louisville, Mississippi that do not have their own ICU facilities.

“There’s going to be limits to what we can do and we’re going to try the best we can to take care of the residents or the employees or the people of Winston County,” says Winston Medical Center CEO Paul Black.

With just 14 acute care beds, Winston Medical Center is one of many rural hospitals in Mississippi working to accommodate as many patients as possible, COVID-19-related or otherwise.

“We don’t have an ICU, so as a patient gets to that point where they need an ICU, then we’re trying to transfer them somewhere,” Black says. “Even if they’re in the ER.”

When Winston Medical does need to transfer a patient, they call up larger facilities within a 100 mile radius to see if they have any beds available. If that does not yield results, they contact Mississippi MED-COM in Jackson to find an open critical care bed.

“But that could be anywhere from the coast, to New Orleans, to Birmingham, to anywhere, just trying to get someone to a bed that they need to be into,” Black says.

Tuesday, In the state of Mississippi, the Department of Health reported that only 152 ICU beds are available out of the 880 total as the number of cases increase.

“[Our increase in new COVID-19 cases] is about 10 or 11 as the seven day average but that’s where it was in the latter part of July and the first part of August,” Black says. “It hasn’t quite reached that top level yet but it’s headed that way.”

If space becomes an issue, Black says the hospital has a plan to move any non-COVID-19 patients to their 10-bed general psych unit so they can use their 14-beds for patients with the virus.

“We’ll put non-COVID patients in there to help protect them, because that’s kind of an inclosed unit and then the COVID patients will be in our regular acute care side,” Black says. “We just feel like that’s the best way to handle it right now.”

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