Vanderbilt Limiting Surgeries Again As COVID Cases Fill Hospitals

Aug 6, 2021

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is treating more 84 COVID patients across all its hospitals — which is far short of its high point. But it's expecting the surge to continue.
Credit Blake Farmer | WPLN News (file)

Nashville’s largest hospital is quickly filling up with unvaccinated COVID patients. On Thursday, Vanderbilt University Medical Center announced its adult hospital is once again rescheduling surgeries that can be delayed, as a result of the influx.

VUMC is treating more than 80 COVID patients after hitting a low point of 10 a few weeks ago. And while most staffers are protected from COVID through vaccination, keeping enough nurses on the clock is still a challenge, according to a note sent to employees.

“Everybody that comes for surgery needs their surgery, and so having to postpone them is a very significant change. And it’s something that could potentially get a lot worse as we move into this next phase of the pandemic,” Dr. Seth Karp, VUMC chief of surgery, tells WPLN News.

Vanderbilt has accepted seriously ill COVID patients from Tennessee hospitals and the rest of the South throughout much of the pandemic. But it is informing ambulance services that they have limited room for transfers, even as hospitalizations spike statewide — now up nearly seven fold from July 4.

It’s not just the adult hospital hitting some capacity limits. The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is also experiencing “record admissions,” though most of the surge is driven by a rare summer flare up of pediatric viral illnesses like RSV.

COVID cases in the children’s hospital remain in the single digits. But some children’s hospitals in the South have more COVID patients than ever. LouisianaArkansas and Alabama are dealing with more pediatric COVID patients in the hospital than at any point in the pandemic.

With similarly low vaccination rates, Tennessee is likely just a few weeks behind, says Dr. Ritu Banerjee, a VUMC infectious disease specialist.

“I never would have predicted that we’d see a surge like this again and that it would potentially be worse for children,” she says. “But COVID just continues to throw us curve balls.”

Despite rising hospitalizations, it’s too early to know whether the delta variant is more deadly for kids. And pediatric deaths remain extremely rare, with 10 fatalities in Tennessee through late July.