Samaritan’s Purse responding to ‘a disaster of our own making’

UMMC Vice-Chancellor Lou Ann Woodward speaks outside a second field hospital set up at UMMC to...
UMMC Vice-Chancellor Lou Ann Woodward speaks outside a second field hospital set up at UMMC to treat COVID patients.(WLBT)
Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 2:54 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - UMMC Vice-Chancellor Lou Ann Woodward couldn’t hide her disappointment.

While she thanked Samaritan’s Purse for setting up the second field hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, she said the nonprofit shouldn’t have to be here.

But, because so many people have been unwilling to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Samaritan’s Purse is directing resources to Mississippi to help fight a disaster that could have been avoided.

“Samaritan’s Purse is responding to a disaster in Haiti. That’s a natural disaster,” she said. “The disaster they’re responding to here in Mississippi today is a disaster of our own making.

“We as a state, as a collective, have failed to respond in a unified way to a common threat. We have failed to use the tools to protect ourselves, to protect our families, to protect our children, and to protect our state,” she said. “We have... a safe and a free vaccine, but we are not using it to its fullest capacity.”

A press conference was held Wednesday to announce the construction of a new field hospital at UMMC. The hospital was installed to help the officials there address an overflow of COVID patients.

The international Christian organization responded days after Gov. Tate Reeves reached out to the group for help.

“It’s our pleasure to be here serving the community. But I wish it was under different circumstances,” said Edward Graham, assistant to Samaritan’s Purse’s vice president of programs and government relations. “They do this because they want to love their neighbor. It’s the story of the good Samaritan. Don’t pass by someone who is suffering.”

There is plenty of suffering. As of 8 a.m., August 17, UMMC had 139 confirmed or suspected inpatient COVID cases, including 119 adults and 20 children.

The cases represent are the results of the fourth wave of COVID since the outbreak began and a repeat of a terrible nightmare for healthcare workers.

“Our workforce is traumatized,” Woodward said. “We are in trouble. We do not have to be here, but (this is where we are.”

The field hospital will provide much relief to UMMC and to the state and will include 32 new beds, five ICU beds, and 27 step-down beds.

It will also be staffed by at least 53 employees, many of whom have experience dealing with pandemics like Ebola.

“This is the fifth or sixth different hospital for COVID I’ve been involved with,” said Dr. Elliot Tenpenny, director of Samaritan’s Purse’s international health unit. “It feels like more of a tragedy right now, not just because of the vaccine issue we’ve heard, but also because of demographics.

“What we saw in Italy and New York was it ravaging folks that were 70, 80-years-old who had a lot of pre-existing conditions,” he said. “What we’re seeing with this variant... now is 40-year-old people intubated and in the ICU. That’s something we never saw in 2020. It’s more of a tragedy now even with these young people, with these young families enduring this and frankly, dying from this.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the hospital will be a huge morale boost for healthcare workers, knowing that there is additional help.

“Our healthcare system has been overburdened for a while. We are negative status on ICU capacity. We have a workforce that is overtaxed, committed but exhausted,” he said. “This will help in ways we will appreciate immediately. It will release back pressure the hospitals have felt throughout the state.”

However, he said the best way to address the virus in the long term is to “cut off the flow of sick folks.”

Dobbs, Woodward, and Graham urged Mississippians to get the shots.

“Nowhere in the Scripture does it say not get vaccinated,” Graham said. “I understand if you have a moral issue about how a vaccine was created, that’s one thing. But do your research, pray about it - I’m a firm believer in prayer - but the bottom line is my encouragement is, just like everyone else up here, get vaccinated. I did it, and I’m just fine.”

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