ICU beds approach 90% capacity, Shelby County Health Department says

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — With the continued rise in COVID-19 cases in the Mid-South, there is concern about hospitals becoming overcrowded.

According to the Shelby County Health Department ICU beds are now close to 90% capacity and there were 250 reported new cases in Shelby County Sunday.

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FOX13 spoke with Internal Resident physician for UTHSC Dr. David Wilbanks who has been working closely with the first COVID-19 patient in Memphis. He said the overcrowding issue is real and is forcing hospitals to adjust accordingly.

He also added that the concern increases when you consider flu season and the possibility of a second COVID-19 wave

“Because you have to think about it - the ICU beds already have people in them at baseline. Before all of this happened, we were already fighting for space as well to try to make things available,” said Wilbanks. “Then now you have this happening, it’s requiring new floors and hospitals to be reconstructed. You have to think about the flow of an entire hospital system, of what floors can we block off. What is going to be a good entrance point to be able to get to these locations?”

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Dr. Wilbanks said he’s had patients die from COVID-19 and it does take an emotional toll on those who interact with patients every day.

“As a medical doctor there’s so many challenges that you’re going to face right away,” said Wilbanks. “You never see this one coming.”

Wilbanks said he never could have imagined he would experience a pandemic during his medical career. The doctor, who just made the transition from intern to internal resident physician for UTHSC, worked with the first COVID-19 patient in Memphis back in March. Months later, the number of cases continues to rise.

Wilbanks told FOX13 he has witnessed the toll it’s taking on families who have lost loved ones.

“You have to try to talk with them about what would you see this person’s wishes as being. How do they talk about their end of life care?” he said.

Wilbanks said the ages of those who have died vary and some have been younger than you would expect. He said many already had pre-existing health issues with a smoking history being a major factor.

Wilbanks said the past few months has impacted medical workers emotionally.

“To see patients declining and to be able to hear the hurt in their family’s voice and longing that they wish that they could be there, it does take a toll and you try to stay brave,” said Wilbanks. “You try to stay strong especially when you’re trying to talk to the family members.”

He said it’s frustrating to see people who don’t take this virus seriously. He said if people saw what he sees on a daily basis, it may change views.

“Seeing people decline who would seemingly be in great health. They look like a healthy person. You see how quickly their bodies go downhill and they pass away and then the hurt that is in the voices of their loved ones. Once you see that firsthand, it would change the perspective of it,” he said.