Mississippi's Largest Hospital Converting Garage to COVID Ward as State Short on ICU Beds

The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), the state's largest hospital, is clearing out the bottom floor of its parking garage to build a COVID-19 ward.

The hospital is asking the federal government to provide additional medical professionals to work in the garage's field hospital, according to the hospital. UMMC does not have enough staff for the growing number of COVID-19 patients, and the current staff is pushed to its limits, the hospital said.

Mississippi is one of the worst-hit states in the nation in the current wave of cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH).

The state reported over 3,000 new cases and 25 deaths on Tuesday. Nearly 1,400 people are currently hospitalized for a confirmed COVID-19 case in the state, 388 of whom are in the ICU and 249 are on ventilators, according to MSDH.

UMMC Vice Chancellor Dr. LouAnne Woodward said Mississippi is in "distress" over the latest wave of coronavirus cases. She also encouraged people to get the vaccine to prevent more hospitalizations in the state. The influx of new patients is overwhelming the entire hospital, not just the COVID-19 ward.

"There were ZERO available ICU beds in Mississippi as of early this morning. None," Woodward said on Twitter. "That means hospitals across the state may not be able to provide the level of care needed to you or your loved one. Not just for COVID-19 but FOR ANY EMERGENCY CARE."

ICU bed availability is an indicator of the strain COVID is placing on MS hospitals.
We are caught up in a wave. Is it a rising wave, a crest? We won’t know until it has receded, but right now MS is in distress.
The weapons against this virus are EASY and SAFE: Masks & vaccines. pic.twitter.com/PNgHWNiQTv

— LouAnn Woodward M.D. (@LAWoodwardMD) August 9, 2021

Woodward said most of the hospitalizations are of unvaccinated patients. Numbers from the MSDH show 90 percent of people hospitalized for COVID-19 between July 24 and August 10 were unvaccinated.

At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Woodward confirmed the hospital will receive the federal manpower from the U.S. Health and Human Services that they requested.

"We are hoping by Friday to be able to start seeing patients in that temporary facility," Woodward said of the parking garage ward.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Dr. Alan Jones said UMMC is headed toward "total failure of the hospital system" if something doesn't change.

"Everything's full," Jones said at the conference. "If there were a bus wreck of kids, we would not be able to take care of all those kids at this hospital."

UMMC is seeing an increase in healthy, younger patients and people without pre-existing conditions due to the Delta variant. The pediatric hospital is completely full as well, Jones said.

Woodward called the parking garage ward a "Band-Aid" for the surge.

"The big solution is, let's get this surge under control and let's get the spread of this virus under control, and the way that we do that is by getting people vaccinated," Woodward said. "That is the big thing."

Parking Garage COVID ICU
The University of Mississippi Medical Center is clearing out its parking garage to set up a COVID-19 ward as ICU beds fill up. Above, a nurse walks inside a temporary Emergency Room, built into a parking garage at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, California, on January 3. Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images