JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — During Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday a stern warning was given about the impact of the pandemic on rural hospitals.
“The challenge of current hospital capacity is not physical space, it’s having the staff to work there,” said the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey. “The need for those beds in alternative care sites…we’ve got beds, we’ve got the physical space. it’s the staffing.”
As flu season looms, the strain on hospitals is expected to be even greater. The president of the state’s Hospital Association, Dr. Wendy Long says Tennessee is competing with other states to meet staffing needs.
“We are competing with many other states for those staff that might be able to be brought into a hospital that was in a crisis so I really think it’s incumbent upon us as Tennesseeans to get control of this and not to look outside for help,” said Dr. Long. “If the increase in hospitalizations that we many times experience during a typical flu season were layered on top of the current surge of hospitalizations for Covid patients that we are experiencing today, we would have statewide capacity issues.”
Back in Johnson City, at its weekly press conference on Wednesday, Ballad Health said this region is in “a really bad place in this pandemic.”
That sentiment was echoed by Dr. Piercey. “When you look at the weekly totals, we’re still running in the low to mid 20,000 per day tests. We truly believe this is an increase in transmission particularly in our rural areas,” she said.
Ballad, hoping to put a personal face on the crisis, invited the mother of a 29-year-old woman who spent 38 days in the hospital to share their family’s story.
“In addition to cardiac arrest, her lungs were completely white with COVID. Blood clots were likely,” said Angel’s mother, Vicky Livesay. “We had to leave our daughter alone and to think that we might be leaving her to die alone.”
After her hospital stay, Angel later spent 26 days in rehab. She still needs oxygen and tires easily but is recovering.