Shortage of health care workers impacting local, state hospitals as COVID-19 cases surge

Published 2:40 pm Friday, August 20, 2021

COVID-19 case numbers are skyrocketing in Mississippi. There are 1,633 cases in hospitals statewide with 486 in ICU and 319 on ventilators with all the numbers rising, as of Thursday.

To make the situation more dire, there is a lack of health care workers to tend to those who are sick, according to Mississippi State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer and local physician Dr. Dan Edney. 

“We have a severe staffing shortage with 2,000 fewer nurses now in Mississippi compared to this time last year,” Edney said, when there were 1,444 COVID cases at the peak in January. 

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This is not only due to retirements, Edney said, but also due to medical professionals seeking opportunities out of state. States like Louisiana, Texas and Florida are recruiting workers and are able to offer much higher wages and bonuses than can be offered in Mississippi.

This is due to the high uninsured rate in Mississippi, and the high percentage of people on Medicaid and Medicare, which pay hospitals less than private insurers. 

This week, there were 44 patients needing ICU beds in Mississippi and hospitals were able to only open seven. 

“You can’t just put a patient in an ICU bed without the staff to care for them,” Edney said.  

The MSDH is working with Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to bring in contract help and Federal support to open more ICU and medical beds. 

Therefore, field hospitals are being opened in Mississippi, and staffing from out of state is coming in to help.  

“Hospitals are doing everything to care for our communities,” Edney said. “We just have no room to take care of our regular emergencies such as heart attacks, stroke, and accidents as of now.” 

Sadly, COVID-19 cases have yet to peaked and Edney said they may not for seven to 14 more days.  

“We must do everything we can to keep the hospitals around our state functioning by getting vaccinated, wear a mask, socially distance and get (monoclonal antibody) therapy if indicated should you get COVID,” he said. 

At Merit Health River Region, there has been an influx of COVID-positive patients, according to CEO Benjamin Richaud.

“Like hospitals across the country, Merit Health River Region is seeing an increase in admissions of COVID-positive patients and experiencing challenges with staffing,” Richaud said. “We staff the hospital based on the number of patients and the acuity of patients in our care, meaning staffing levels and the types of staff needed change based on the needs of patients currently in the hospital.

“We want to remind everyone that Merit Health River Region remains prepared to care for all patients who need medical attention and we encourage patients experiencing a medical emergency to seek care promptly. Our top priority is the care and safety of our patients.”

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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