Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have shot up 30% in Tennessee since the start of October. And the number of patients in intensive care units is near an all-time high — approaching 1,200 — with health officials saying they are older and sicker than earlier in the pandemic.
The average age of COVID patients hospitalized in Tennessee is 70, with more of them hailing from the rural areas that are reeling from the virus. And they’re staying an average of nine days.
“These are pretty extensive stays,” says Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee’s health commissioner. “They require quite a bit of medication and treatment and recovery. Remember, even when you get out of the hospital, you are almost certainly not well. You still have a long recovery ahead of you.”
The state has contracted with eight nursing homes, including two in the Nashville area, that will take these patients if they’re still testing positive for the coronavirus and possibly contagious when they’re released. These COVID-specific nursing homes have alleviated much of the concern about having enough space in hospitals.
But having enough people to manage all of these complex patients, some on ventilators, is still a concern, Piercey says. The state has $50 million that hospitals can tap into if they need help paying overtime or bringing in contract nurses and physicians.
“It’s much more of a staffing issue than a physical space issue,” she says.
Some local hospitals are already sounding the alarm. Williamson Medical Center has seen a 50% jump in its COVID patients this month.
“We’re seeing patients in more advanced stage illness due to delaying routine care and navigating a nationwide blood shortage, all while cases continue to rise,” CEO Donald Webb says in a statement. “We’re calling on our community members to help aid in our efforts, including following guidelines to reduce the spread, donating blood and continuing routine healthcare visits.”