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Smaller Hospitals Are Bearing The Brunt Of Tennessee’s Next Phase With COVID-19

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Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have stabilized in Tennessee, but a new analysis from Vanderbilt University’s department of health policy finds smaller cities are feeling the strain.

The state has been hovering around 1,100 hospitalizations, and more than half of the state’s hospitalizations are now outside Nashville and Memphis. The growth has been primarily in smaller cities and rural areas.

One of the busiest is Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, which has seen nearly 100 COVID-19 patients over the last week. That’s four times where it started the month of July and more than even the largest hospitals in the state.

“That’s not an award that we were actually going for,” says James Ross, CEO of West Tennessee Healthcare.


Credit VUMC
An analysis from the Vanderbilt University department of health policy finds hospitalizations have been growing more quickly outside Nashville and Memphis.

The 642-bed facility has been sending some patients to outlying facilities, also owned by West Tennessee Healthcare, to make space for the labor-intensive COVID patients.

While Jackson and Madison County have a mandate for facial coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, most of the 20 counties it pulls from do not. So Ross says he’s bracing for even more patients as in-person school is about to restart.

“Without mask mandates in these other smaller communities, I think we do need to prepare for even greater escalation,” he says.

The hospital has a north campus under renovation that has been identified for use as overflow, if COVID numbers keep climbing. But Ross says that will require leaning heavily on traveling nurses, since his staff is stretched thin already.

Vanderbilt’s analysis released Monday also finds hospitals in Knoxville and Chattanooga are seeing more COVID-19 patients. So are hospitals in Clarksville and in northeast Tennessee.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID patients in Nashville hospitals has been dropping in recent days, as has Memphis to a lesser extent. Vanderbilt’s epidemiologists credit the downturn to masks and other business restrictions.


Credit VUMC

Blake Farmer is Nashville Public Radio's senior health care reporter. In a partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, Blake covers health in Tennessee and the health care industry in the Nashville area for local and national audiences.
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