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UMMC warns of “breaking point” as short-staffed hospital faces surge

Health experts at one of Mississippi’s largest hospitals are warning that the healthcare system is rapidly approaching its breaking point as hospitalizations continue to increase along with the rise of the Delta variant. 

With 94 COVID-19 patients, the University of Mississippi Medical Center is currently over-capacity as the healthcare system fights through staff shortages. 

“The health system, our health system—I think I can safely say the other health systems around us in the city and in the state—is at a breaking point. We are not finite resources. We can break, we can have to close…and I think we’re rapidly heading in that direction,” Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs said. 

Between the loss of staff throughout the course of the pandemic and outbreaks within the system, Dr. Jones told reporters Wednesday afternoon that units of the hospital are empty because they cannot staff them. Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC COVID-19 incident commander, detailed that these shortages include nurses, respiratory therapists, CMAs and ancillary staff members. 

“People are burnt out, they’re tired, they’re fatigued… it’s almost impossible to put into words the frustration that they feel and the disappointment of ‘here we are again’ and honestly, some low level of anger. There are a lot of people in healthcare right now that feel pretty mad about this situation. Part of it is because we know more now. Now, we have a safe and effective tool that we did not have at this time last year. We’ve got the vaccine, we know more, and yet, here we are again,” Dr. Woodward said. 

She went on to state that UMMC will always do what they can to accept transfers from across the state, but as they continue operate over capacity, they’ve been forced to discuss the possibility of saying ‘no.’

“We hope that we do not get to that point, and we’re doing everything we can do not to get to that point, but those are the things that we are trying to consider and think through if, in fact, these next few weeks play out the way that we are concerned that they will,” she said.

While this morning saw the report of over 2,800 new cases, Dr. Woodward fears that Mississippi hasn’t seen its peak as the school year begins and large social gatherings continue.

12 of the patients at UMMC are children, which continues the trend of pediatric patients and younger adults being admitted to hospitals during this latest wave of the pandemic in Mississippi. The health officials stressed that an overwhelming majority of these cases are in unvaccinated individuals and urged all eligible Mississippians to get the shot. 

“We know that the vaccine effectiveness for preventing hospitalization, preventing death has not changed. It is the best tool that we have,” Dr. Jones said. 

UMMC, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, continues to advocate for universal masking in schools. Last week, the CDC and the State Department of Health recommended masking for teachers and students. Governor Tate Reeves has continued to state that he will not mandate masks in schools. 

Over the past week, more districts have reinstated mask mandates and two Pine Belt schools were forced to return to virtual learning due to an increase in cases.

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