Understaffed and at capacity, VUMC shifts model to handle COVID surge


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Understaffed and overworked, Vanderbilt University Medical Center is consistently changing their model to handle the surge in COVID patients. 

The director of the Intensive Care Unit, Dr. Todd Rice, says the hospital already reached its breaking point, calling off surgeries and elective procedures as they continue re-working roles of employees, improvising with what they have. 

“I think the term we are using is bursting at the seams,” Dr. Rice stated. 

The hospital is over capacity with around 200 COVID patients, according to Dr. Rice. 

“About half of those is what we are used to handle.” 

Therefore they have shifted gears, moving staff into different roles and converting patient rooms as part of their efforts. 

“There’s sort of a re-distribution of job duties and job descriptions to try, and you now have everybody help and take care of these patients as best we can. We now have things we call pop-up ICU’s where we are converting beds from other places because we need more ICU beds,” he explained. 

It’s not about finding space or beds for the patients he said, but rather a provider that can be with them. 

Middle Tennessee was already experiencing a nursing shortage before covid hit, Dr. Rice said with the surge in cases they are simply running thin. 

“This has been a long 18 months and lots of people have gotten really burned out.” 

Dr. Rice says while they need nurses, there is another role that’s in high demand as this disease skyrockets.

“There’s a huge shortage of respiratory therapists and, as you know, COVID is a disease that has respiratory problems. So respiratory therapists are on the front lines, so we are actively trying to hire more respiratory therapists. There just aren’t a lot of people out there with that skill set to be hired, so we are having to make do and working overtime and extra shifts and that sort of stuff to cover.” 

He says employees are exhausted and he doesn’t see it coming to an end anytime soon. 

“It’s often a lot easier to do something if you know when the end is. As long as the cases are going up, there is no way we are going to see a reprieve in the hospitalizations or the ICU’s,” said Dr. Rice. 

He adds that it is even more frustrating that about 90 percent of their COVID patients are unvaccinated

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