Heads of city’s 3 major hospitals discuss COVID surge readiness

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 17, 2020 6:05 AM CT | Published: July 17, 2020 4:00 AM CT

The leaders of the three major health care institutions in the city are preparing for the kind of surge in COVID-19 cases that could open up the city’s field hospital and also mean hiring more staff in their facilities as well as moving patients.

“What you really want is those who are in the hospital to get better and go back home,” Regional One Health CEO Dr. Reginald Coopwood said on the WKNO Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”

“What we see is those in the hospitals continue to get worse and then they are transferred up into the ICU,” he said. “We too have a surge capacity.”

For Regional One Health, the calculation is a bit more complex than it is for Baptist Memorial Health Care and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. Regional One includes a level one trauma center, and Coopwood’s planning has to include “adequate space for the emergencies that happen in this community while we also take care of those COVID patients.”

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Baptist CEO Jason Little said he is working under the assumption that the surge is coming with 90% of ICU beds in use as of Thursday. For Little, that means pulling different “levers.”

“Whether that’s adding rooms and adding staff, converting here-to-fore not negative pressure rooms to negative pressure or looking at other hospitals that we have in our system where we can transfer patients, focusing on discharge capabilities,” Little said.

He said plans could include moving patients into nursing homes once they are able to move out of intensive care units but not ready to return home.

Michael Ugwueke, CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur, says his hospitals and those of Little and Coopwood have adequate equipment, medical hardware and personal protective equipment to meet a surge and are in better shape in that regard than they were in March when cities across the country were scrambling for a limited amount of the necessary equipment.

“I don’t worry so much in terms of the number of persons testing positive in the community because the more testing you do obviously you are going to get a whole lot of person testing positive,” he said. “What I worry about is the number that actually comes into the hospital to be admitted, particularly those that are on ventilators and those in our ICU beds. If I see those numbers creeping up then it begins to worry me.”

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Coopwood said there is a connection between the number of confirmed cases rising on a daily basis and what happens in hospitals locally.

“I think when the prevalence rises in the community there is an expectation from us that we are going to see an increased volume,” he said.

Little assumes a 40-bed field hospital near the Medical District will be activated at some point. And Coopwood says details remain to be worked out about what would trigger the use of those reserve beds, possibly for non-acute care patients.

“I think they would be more suitable for that space to divert them to the alternate care hospital while we take care of those people who need more aggressive care,” he said.

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Little said supplies are there for more testing, but getting the results has slowed down.

“The one major issue that’s out there is reagents for testing,” he said, referring to the solution that is used to put the test swabs into and indicate whether someone has tested positive or negative for the virus.

“This is one of those issues where Michael, Reginald and I have things that are in our control,” Little said. “But when it comes to doing tests, we can draw the specimen from the patient but then we send it off to a commercial lab and they then get the reagents from a manufacturer to process the test. The reagents was an issue last week. That really is the bottleneck now.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes of The Daily Memphian, airs Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. Watch the episode at the top of the page or have a listen to the podcast.

Produced by Natalie Van Gundy

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play.


Behind The Headlines Reginald Coopwood Jason Little Michael Ugwueke COVID-19 pandemic

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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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