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Tennessee Air Ambulances Have Fewer Places To Take Critical COVID Patients

Vanderbilt LifeFlight

Hospital capacity has become so tight in Tennessee that patients who would normally be airlifted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center are often being diverted away from Nashville altogether.

Over the weekend, COVID-19 hospitalizations reached nearly 2,700 statewide, setting a new record for the pandemic. Some rural hospitals don’t have intensive care units or the ability to manage patients on ventilators.

“Nashville has reached maximum capacity for their bed space, so now we’re having to utilize some of our larger rural hospitals to transfer from some of our smaller rural hospitals,” says flight nurse Mark Tankersley, who is stationed in Murfreesboro at one of Vanderbilt LifeFlight’s bases.

Tankersley says instead of two or three COVID transports a week, they’re now conducting two or three a day. They’re also picking up patients from neighboring states, at times.

Hospitalizations in Tennessee have stopped climbing as fast as they were, but epidemiologists say that’s not necessarily a good sign: It could be that hospitals are so full that they’re taking only the sickest COVID patients.

Cases Also Hitting New Records

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are off the charts again in Tennessee. Sunday resulted in a new one-day high with more than 11,000 new cases reported in a single day.

Tennessee’s system for keeping track of lab results has been so bogged down that daily reports have been delayed and there’s now roughly a week lag between the state’s reports and when patients received their test results.

State epidemiologist John Dunn says Tennesseans should focus more on the big picture — which is worse than ever.

“I think it’s important for people to realize that the daily number is not as important as what we’re seeing in the trend,” he says. “Because we are at the peak of our COVID cases and COVID hospitalizations and COVID deaths.”

Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.
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