Tennessee Hospital Surge Has Yet To Trigger Overflow Sites

Oct 27, 2020

Gov. Bill Lee toured a floor of Nashville General Hospital that had been vacant. Over the course of one month, the Army Corps of Engineers renovated the floor to handle 67 beds of non-critical COVID-19 patients.
Credit WPLN News

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients show no sign of slowing down in Tennessee, with a new high almost every day. But so far, the surge has not triggered the state’s plan to launch expanded sites for their care.

The alternative care sites in Nashville and Memphis have gone through “functional exercises” within the last few months to make sure they can launch quickly if needed, according to a Tennessee Department of Health spokesperson. But so far, they have not been ordered to activate.

Nashville’s overflow site was originally the city’s convention center, early in the pandemic when the state thought Middle Tennessee might need an extra thousand beds. The Music City Center was planning to hold 1,600 beds in total. Instead, the Army Corps of Engineers built out 67 beds to handle non-critical COVID patients in an unused floor of Nashville General Hospital.

The Memphis facility is more sizable with 400 beds in the old Commercial Appeal newspaper offices, costing more than $50 million to renovate.

The state also hasn’t required hospitals to cut back again on their revenue-generating elective surgeries, and it doesn’t plan to. But some are scaling back on their own: Regional hospitals in Columbia, Cookeville and the Tri-Cities have all restricted procedures to make sure they have the capacity to handle this new record surge.

The primary capacity issue is more about staffing than space. Ballad Health in northeast Tennessee, for example, has 40 nurses out with COVID. The state still has a more than $50 million fund to help hospitals pay overtime or bring in contract nurses and doctors from out of town.