Nashville ER Doctors: More Hospitals Are Diverting Patients, As COVID Hospitalizations Climb

Nov 20, 2020

Clinicians at Sumner Regional Medical Center show off their personal protective equipment. The hospital was one of the first to have its capacity tested with COVID-19 patients after a nearby nursing home in Gallatin was evacuated because of an outbreak.
Credit Sumner Regional Medical Center via Facebook

As COVID-19 hospitalizations set new records nearly every day in Tennessee, doctors are speaking out about the dire situation they see in their emergency rooms with patients traveling hours to find a hospital that has space for them.

Physicians from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Saint Thomas Health and TriStar spoke Wednesday on a video call, primarily reiterating their pleas for a statewide mask mandate. But they also revealed a more desperate situation than most hospital administrators have been sharing publicly.

“We have been frequently on diversion, meaning we don’t take transfers from other hospitals. We try to send ambulances to other hospitals because we have no beds available,” Dr. Jessica Rosen says.

In nearly a decade at Saint Thomas, Rosen says the Midtown ER had almost never been on diversion — even at the height of flu season. In the last few months, it’s happened more times than she can count.

Passing Hospitals To Get To Nashville

As more hospitals turn away people, Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been accepting intensive care patients from as far away as Arkansas, Alabama, and western Virginia.

“We’re already in a state where the vast majority of our patients now in the intensive care unit are not coming in through our emergency department,” says Dr. Matthew Semler, Rosen’s husband. “They’re being sent hours to be at our hospital because all of the hospitals between here and where they present to the emergency department are on diversion.”

Nearly 2,000 COVID patients are in hospitals statewide, which is a 25% increase over the last two weeks. Like the state as a whole, hospitals now have more nurses than ever sick with COVID or quarantining for two weeks because of exposure. State officials have asked that any recently retired nurses and doctors consider returning to the workforce to help hospitals manage the pandemic.

“Our capacity is limited by our nurses’ staffing abilities,” says Dr. Katrina Green at HCA’s TriStar Skyline Medical Center. “A lot of them do work overtime, but there’s a limit to how much overtime someone can work, and it’s very taxing — not just physically but emotionally — to take care of COVID patients.”