Baptist Hospital docs say COVID deaths heartbreaking, preventable


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Health leaders toured Baptist Memorial Hospital and met with staff treating COVID-19 patients Tuesday.

Doctors shared some of the heartbreaking stories and technology from inside the hospital, along with stories of the resilience and the hurt employees have endured throughout the pandemic.

“The bedside nurses and respiratory therapists here, it is breaking their hearts. It is breaking their hearts that people are dying of a preventable disease,” said Dr. Jeff Wright with Baptist Hospital. “It is tragic that this has become politicized the way that it has. That people have taken on misinformation.” 

Physicians say they’re treating 31 COVID-19 patients on ventilators. Two of them were vaccinated, both of those people over the age of 65. 

“Being critically ill and in the ICU after vaccination is exceptionally rare,” Wright said.

When asked how hospitalizations are looking about two weeks into Shelby County’s mask mandate, infectious disease specialist Dr. Steven Threlkeld said the increases have begun to level off.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen a week or so bring fewer cases, and I think every little bit helps, there’s no question,” Threlkeld said. “If nothing else, we know getting vaccinated is huge.”

But he says he’s concerned children in schools are having a lot of transmission, then a couple weeks later that transmission gets to families with the much more contagious Delta variant. 

And as Shelby County leaders toured Baptist, they got a look at the ECMO machines, which provide help to patients severe conditions in the lungs and heart. 

“There are rare openings around this whole corridor of the United States,” Dr. John Craig said. “Basically all the machines are in use, with a waiting list pretty much everywhere and those people, most of them will die waiting for ECMO.”

Or as county Mayor Lee Harris put it: “These resources here are really, really special but there are not enough of these resources to go around.”

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