Memphis area hospitals under strain as beds fill up, testing doctor’s patience with unvaccinated

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Threlkeld: 'The strain on the healthcare workers ... is extraordinary'

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The UT Health Science Center in Memphis projects hospitalizations in Shelby County to reach a pandemic high as soon as next week.

Hospitals in Shelby County are caring for more than 500 COVID patients Thursday morning, 400 more than just a month ago.

Now hospitals here are being asked to accept patients from neighboring states where the hospitals are full.

The influx is straining hospitals, and health care workers, who are pleading with people to get vaccinated.

“The strain on the healthcare workers, I think right now, is extraordinary, maybe the highest it’s ever been,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld with Baptist Hospital in Memphis. “I think we as health care workers are very much out of patience with people who say this is not a real thing and we don’t need to get vaccinated.”

Many hospitals in Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have no beds available.

The hospitals here in Memphis have only a few beds left, and now they’re filling up with patients from hundreds of miles away.

“Our ICU beds are really picking up with folks who are transferring here from outlying places,” Threlkeld said. “We’re getting calls from Louisiana, Missouri and places that are a bit far flung because the places in those areas are all full.”

Threlkeld said there are more requests for beds than Memphis has the capacity to provide.

“If you look at some of the projections for the Memphis area, some would say it will be bad enough where all of the beds in this town are taken up, and that’s saying something because we have a lot of beds,” he said.

Adding to the strain on the healthcare system is the length of time patients are now spending in the hospital.

Many of the patients now are comparatively very young, Threlkeld said. That means they will survive longer, meaning hospital beds will stay occupied and run out more quickly.

Threlkeld said that soon, people who need care for other emergencies, like a car crash or a heart attack, may have to wait to be unloaded from an ambulance until space opens up.

An emergency overflow hospital with space for more than 400 COVID-19 patients opened in Memphis in 2020. But it was never used, and the state began moving equipment out in May.

The Shelby County Health Department says 431,699 people had been vaccinated as of Wednesday. The county has a population of about 937,000.

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