A Mississippi hospital is canceling brain and heart surgeries because COVID-19 patients are taking up all the ICU beds

A Mississippi hospital is canceling brain and heart surgeries because COVID-19 patients are taking up all the ICU beds
Chaplain Kevin Deegan places his hand on the head of a COVID-19 patient while praying for him at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 9, 2021. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
  • Mississippi's Memorial Hospital at Gulfport is in a tough spot as COVID cases multiply in the state.
  • The hospital has had to cancel brain and heart surgeries because there's no room in its ICU.
  • In the best case scenario, patients who need these surgeries might wait days to receive one.

As positive coronavirus cases swiftly rise in Mississippi, one hospital finds itself unable to accommodate people who need major surgeries to survive.

Memorial Hospital at Gulfport doesn't have enough ICU beds to house patients waiting for brain and heart surgeries, two staffers told Insider. The situation is so dire, the hospital has no choice but to cancel them. In the best case scenario, patients who need these surgeries might wait days to receive one, said Whitney Sutton, registered nurse and ICU manager at Memorial. Some will wait even longer, for periods of up to two weeks.

"They're lifesaving for the person who needs it," Sutton said. "We try each and every day to make it work. But as soon as we make a bed, it's given to the next person who's not doing well."

The hospital is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, most of whom are unvaccinated. At times, nurses hear these patients express regret about not getting vaccinated, respiratory therapy manager Brandi Ladner told Insider.

Mississippi has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the country, at 36.8%, beat out only by Alabama. The rate is even lower in Harrison County, where Memorial is based. About 32% of the population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in Harrison, according to the most recent data from the Mississippi State Department of Health.


Officials are trying desperately to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The topmost health official in the state last week announced that all people who test positive for the virus must quarantine at home for 10 days.

The Delta variant has been spreading quickly across the state. At Memorial, nurses and doctors say it is linked to most of the positive cases they've seen so far.

Ladner says the hospital is seeing many younger patients. On average, a COVID-19 patient in recent weeks at Memorial has been between 40 and 50 years old. But there are patients even younger who are dying from the virus.

"These are 30-year-olds with 6-year-olds, 12-year-olds, with their children in school," Ladner said. "And we have to contact the spouse and tell them that we weren't able to save them." The youngest COVID-19 patient at Memorial right now is a healthy 24-year-old on life support.

Morale among hospital staffers responding to COVID-19 at Memorial is even worse at this time than it was at the height of the pandemic last year, when vaccines had not yet been developed or authorized, Ladner and Sutton said.


Last year, the fear was that nobody knew how to treat patients with the coronavirus. This time around, medical practitioners at Memorial are armed with a year's worth of knowledge and authorized vaccines, but the situation is not any easier.

"It seems like a lost cause because no matter what we do, it's not enough," Sutton said.

When people die of COVID-19, "you have to dust yourself off and go to the next room because it doesn't stop," Sutton added. "You don't really get a moment to grieve those losses or process them."

The hospital is pleading with people to get vaccinated. "If you want to be there for your child's 16th birthday, get vaccinated," Ladner said.

But the combination of rising cases and a low vaccination rate is creating difficult options, like staffers having to choose between helping a COVID-19 patient or providing a life-altering surgery.


"It's unfortunate that there's somebody else worse that needs the bed and they are left in the hallway," Ladner said.