VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, July 10, 2020

Mississippi, This is Serious

Good morning!

Before I do anything else, I want to thank every one of you for your role in the Medical Center’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  I know many of you are exhausted, both physically and mentally.  Some of us are in need of a hug or a shoulder to lean on after a long day or night at the U.  We’re even denied those human connections due to the necessity of social distancing.

I wish I could say this is a temporary bump in the road and that this virus is going to go away, but for the foreseeable future, it is not.

VC_July_10_MaskUP.jpgThe Medical Center has stepped up in every way.  We are doing our part to care for not just COVID-19 patients, but for the sickest of the sick that only UMMC can treat:  major trauma victims, transplant recipients and people young and old in the grips of often-deadly sepsis infections or other acute illnesses requiring the critical care expertise of an academic medical center.

Here’s where we stand:  We are recording our highest numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, a figure that will continue to rise even higher.  Our ICU beds are full.  Our adult hospitals are at capacity.  On a recent day, 40 people in our Adult Emergency Department were waiting for inpatient beds to become available.

We are having our largest patient surge of the pandemic.  The curve of this virus in Mississippi, which initially flattened, is now spiking.  We are seeing regular and consistent increases in the numbers of people testing positive.  We saw this storm coming before the first Mississippian succumbed to COVID-19 in March, and today, we’re in the eye of the storm.  But it is anything but calm.

To be able to do our job – to be able to care for all of those who come to us in their most desperate hour – we need help from our fellow Mississippians, who must step up and keep themselves and others safe by diligently wearing masks, mindfully social distancing and frequently washing their hands.

What Mississippians are doing now is not working.  We need to quit acting as if things are normal.  They are not.

Yesterday, UMMC hosted a group of selfless health-care leaders from across the state for a press conference in the medical education building. For the last six months, these leaders have shared our sense of urgency and our deep concerns.  On hand to answer questions from the media were Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state health officer with the Mississippi State Department of Health; Dr. Clay Hays, a cardiologist and president of the Mississippi State Medical Association; Dr. Anita Henderson, president-elect of the Mississippi chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Dr. Bill Grantham, president of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians; and two of our faculty who have statewide leadership positions - Dr. Utsav Nandi, president-elect of the Mississippi chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and Dr. Calvin Thigpen, governor of the Mississippi chapter of the American College of Physicians.

They joined two of UMMC’s pandemic response leaders: Dr. Jonathan Wilson, chief administrative officer and COVID-19 incident manager, and Dr. Alan Jones, assistant vice chancellor for clinical affairs and COVID-19 clinical lead.

These leaders are the experts, and the experts say that unless Mississippians do their part to stem the spread of the virus, the inescapable dark days ahead of us will be even darker.

Last Wednesday, five of the state’s largest hospitals had no available ICU beds, four had 5 percent or fewer available beds and another three had 10 percent or fewer. “Our biggest medical institutions that take care of our sickest patients have no room,” Dobbs said. “Now is the time for the hospitals to step up and try to counter the impacts of reckless social behavior. We’re sending people out of state all the time because Mississippi hospitals cannot take care of Mississippi patients.”

Hospitals statewide, Dr. Dobbs said, must do what UMMC does every day of the week: Make room for more patients, those with COVID-19 and those with other acute illnesses, no matter how many of their beds are full.

Dr. Jones said earlier this week while he was seeing patients in the Adult ED, only two of the department’s 51 exam rooms were available to him.  “I got a call yesterday at 4 a.m. because we had so many patients at the hospital and we didn’t know where to put them,” he told the media.

We don’t want to turn patients away from our Medical Center.  Hospitals statewide are bracing for an anticipated influx of COVID-19-positive patients that may be the result of lax adherence to social distancing measures during the Fourth of July holiday.

This is where we are.  We need community leaders and the public to stand with us and to do their part.  If we can’t get more support and the current trajectory continues, then people will not be able to get the care they need when they need it.

I don’t believe sheltering in place is workable for the long run.  We need to find a middle ground so that we can coexist with the virus while not being completely overwhelmed by it.

I firmly believe everyone should be wearing a mask, but do I want a mandate?  Of course not.  However, if that’s what it takes for people in this state to realize the COVID-19 pandemic is serious, then I support a mandate.  Please #MaskUpMississippi!

We are asking – we are begging – the people of Mississippi to stop acting like everything is normal.  Dr. Hays said it best: “Our state is sick, and what we’re doing now is not working.”

Meanwhile, UMMC’s front line exemplifies the Medical Center’s clinical mission area every day as it shoulders the lion’s share of COVID-19 care statewide.  “Our people are tired. Our resources are stretched thin,” Dr. Jones said. “But, we’re not going anywhere.”

You don’t have to be a health care professional to know our state is going in the wrong direction on COVID-19.  We need buy-in from the citizens of Mississippi to consistently wear a mask in public, practice social distancing, shun gatherings and wash their hands often.

Help us to be #UMMCStrong for you, for your family and for whatever the future may hold.

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