JACKSON, Miss. – While standing in a parking garage where a second field hospital will open at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in less than a week, UMMC’s leader lamented the state’s response to COVID-19.
“It didn’t have to be this way,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, told attendees during a news conference Tuesday.
Mississippi COVID-19 patients, including some of the most seriously ill, will receive care inside a Samaritan’s Purse deployed and staffed field hospital opening tomorrow on UMMC’s Jackson-based campus. It joins a 20-bed federal field hospital inside another parking garage opened Friday.
A Christian organization known for its disaster relief, Samaritan’s Purse is also providing a field hospital in Haiti following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake Aug. 14.
“That’s a natural disaster in Haiti,” Woodward said. “What they are responding to in Mississippi is a disaster of our own making. We, as a state, have failed to respond in a unified way to a common threat. We have failed to use the tools that we have to protect ourselves, to protect our families, to protect our children and to protect our state.”
Those tools, she said, are vaccinations if eligible, wearing face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing.
“We have been told over and over that the best path out of this and to make sure that the next variant isn’t worse is to get vaccinated and stop this surge,” she said.
Today, MSDH reported 3,323 new COVID-19 cases. At UMMC there are 139 confirmed or suspected inpatient COVID-19 cases, with 119 adult patients and 20 children.
Edward Graham, assistant to the vice president of Programs and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse, said the group’s aid was requested by the Office of the Governor.
“We’ve served in multiple places around the world with our hospitals, but with COVID, we’ve served in Italy first, but then mostly in the U.S. and in the Bahamas,” Graham said. “I wish we were here under different circumstances.”
The 32-bed field hospital for adult patients, located in the parking garage beside Children’s of Mississippi Hospital, includes five intensive care beds and 27 beds for lower-acuity patients. It will be staffed by a medical team from Samaritan’s Purse including doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and support personnel.
“I want to thank the Samaritan’s Purse organization for coming to Mississippi and for assisting us in this disaster response,” Woodward said, “and I also want to thank the army of people who, behind the scenes, made this happen.”
Stephen McCraney, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, thanked the organization for its help in adding needed medical professionals during the COVID-19 surge.
“It means a lot to the people of the state of Mississippi,” he said. “It’s common knowledge that, in our hospitals, we’re down in nursing staff and down in medical staff.”
Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Samaritan’s Purse has opened five similar field hospitals in spots around the world, including New York and Los Angeles County, to support local health systems.
Two field hospitals opening in less than a week at UMMC shows the dire state of Mississippi’s surge of COVID-19’s Delta variant.
“In terms of the state’s hospital system, we’re standing in the middle of a garage with field hospitals. I think that speaks for itself,” said Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs, who welcomes the field hospitals and additional staff to run them.
“These will be a tremendous help in terms of being able to give hospitals a little bit of a breather,” he said, “and, hopefully, see these numbers come down.”
An outpatient monoclonal antibody clinic opened for care today adjacent to the federal field hospital.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said those with COVID-19 should talk to their physicians about the MAB treatment. “It could save your life.”
To make an appointment, visit the UMMC COVID MAB treatment website. The Mississippi Department of Health has information about monoclonal antibodies and a list of hospitals and clinics across the state offering this treatment on its website.
Dr. Elliot Tenpenny, director of Samaritan’s Purse’s international health unit, has been a part of the opening of field hospitals throughout the pandemic.
“It feels like more of a tragedy now,” he said. “What we saw in Italy and New York was that COVID was ravaging people who were 70 or 80 years old and had a lot of preexisting conditions. What we’re seeing with this variant is 40-year-old people intubated and in the ICU. That’s something we never saw in 2020.”
Graham, grandson of the late evangelist Billy Graham and son of Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and of Samaritan’s Purse, encouraged people of faith in Mississippi “to care for those in a more vulnerable position. Do the right thing and get vaccinated.”