Memphis field hospital impresses state officials

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 07, 2020 6:30 PM CT | Published: May 07, 2020 6:30 PM CT

State officials got a look around the 400-bed alternative care facility taking shape in an old newspaper office Downtown Thursday, May 7, and state health commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey was impressed.

The field hospital in the old Commercial Appeal building at 495 Union Ave. is scheduled to open in mid-May for use only in case hospitals should be overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Local COVID-19 cases and testing increase as positivity rate falls

The vacant building has been a beehive of activity in a building project undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working with the city.

<strong>Lisa Piercey</strong>

Lisa Piercey

“I can’t tell you how impressive that work is,” Piercey said during Gov. Bill Lee’s Thursday COVID briefing. “It’s fascinating to see the round-the-clock work that they are doing there.”

“It’s really impressive that they can deliver that kind of care in a facility that was completely office-industrial and not at all health care,” said Piercey, who has had a 20-year career in health care and public health before becoming part of Gov. Bill Lee’s cabinet.

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Lee and Piercey both sounded a familiar theme of state testing efforts focusing more on targeted areas than mass testing across the state as the total number of tests goes up. It’s the same distinction local public health officials in Memphis have made about the shift in the response to the pandemic and the testing numbers they weigh in tracking the virus.

“Flattening the curve was never about eliminating or completely removing the spread of this virus,” she said. “Flattening the curve is about capacity of hospitals to keep up with demand.”

Lee also said his goal is to protect lives as well as livelihoods in a public health crisis with very few previous examples of this kind of economic shutdown at least in recent memory.

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Lee said he has had to find a balance between the two goals.

“It really is both-and,” he said. “Recognizing that the safety of our citizens is first and foremost, but we also know we can’t keep our economy shutdown forever.”

Lee said there were some “difficult decisions” in striking the right balance.

“We’ve made important steps to protect the health of Tennesseans, but (also) recognizing that we need to take steps to protect the long-term livelihoods of Tennesseans,” he said. “There’s not been a struggle between those two but a balance — and finding that right balance while making our way through a very real crisis, the pandemic, that had very few answers and that we knew very little about.”

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Meanwhile, Lee and Piercey said there are no plans to change state laws regulating nursing home and assisted living centers.

That is despite a call by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, a former state senator, for more regulation and a return of liability standards for such facilities that were dropped by the Tennessee Legislature several years ago.

“I would venture to guess that every single nursing home would tell you that they are in one of the — if not the most —regulated industry in the world,” Piercey said.

She added that the state has regulatory authority as it continues to monitor those facilities.


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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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