Memphis trauma center turned ambulances away due to overcrowding

Updated: Jul. 8, 2020 at 5:52 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Mid-South’s only Level 1 Trauma center found itself so stretched to the limit that it was forced to turn away patients suffering from some of the most critical types of injuries.

That’s what happened at Regional One Health in Memphis over the Fourth of July holiday weekend and hospital leaders say it’s happening more often. They fear the problem will get worse as COVID-19 cases spike.

The Elvis Presley Trauma Center at Regional One Health treats patients with the most severe life-threatening injuries, from car crashes to gunshot wounds.

“We work very, very hard to take care of our patients. We know that we are a regional resource,” said Dr. Peter Fischer, the interim chief of trauma at Regional One Health. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that if you get into a bad car accident in Kennett, Missouri, you’re coming to Regional One in Memphis. If you get into a bad car accident in Jackson, Tennessee, you’re coming to Memphis.”

But this past Fourth of July weekend, Fischer says the trauma center became so overcrowded, they had to go to “critical advisory” status, which meant diverting ambulances to other hospitals.

In this case, Fischer said the hospital was on critical advisory status for seven hours.

“Critical advisory is used rarely and kind of as a method of last resort,” said Fischer. “It’s when all the beds are at capacity or all the operating rooms are at capacity such to the point that adding another patient to the system would actually endanger the patients that we currently have.”

Fischer says the trauma center usually sees more patients over the summer, like victims of shootings and stabbings or people who’ve been injured in boating or ATV accidents.

But COVID-19 is adding to the problem this year.

He says every patient in the trauma center gets tested for COVID-19 and a growing number of them are testing positive.

“You come in for a gunshot wound, but then you are also [COVID-19] positive at the same time, which just puts a very significant extra strain on the system and has made us have to adapt to that,” said Fischer.

Fischer says he fears it’ll get worse as beds and operating rooms are stretched thin.

“I am concerned about it getting worse,” said Fischer. “As the [COVID-19] patients, both the symptomatic [COVID-19] patients and the asymptomatic [COVID-19] patients take up more and more resources of the hospital, I am concerned that then that takes away the regional resource.”

He says hospitals across the region have started stepping up to treat more of the lower level trauma patients to keep the trauma center open for the most critical patients.

But this also puts a strain on the other hospitals.

It’s something health leaders are watching closely, as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

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