Message from Dr. Pinson: VUMC modifying operations in response to COVID surge


I hope you were able to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday and had an opportunity for some rest. As I have commented before, we are in a marathon and not a sprint when it comes to our pandemic response. There is a genuine need for self-care as we make this journey together.

During the past several weeks, the numbers of COVID patients requiring hospitalization in our facilities have risen dramatically. Not only are more Nashvillians requiring hospitalization but the number of transfers we are receiving from throughout the region has risen sharply. Yesterday, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH) reported another 3,024 COVID cases within a 24-hour period while nearly 2,200 patients are currently hospitalized across the state due to the virus.

Here, in recent weeks the numbers of those hospitalized due to the virus have varied from the low 90s to more than 120. Not only are we caring for more patients, they are also sicker. The number requiring ICU-level support, including ventilation, also continues to rise. And consistent with data reported by the TDOH, we are seeing an increase in younger patients in their 20s and 30s requiring hospitalization.

Our colleagues in the Department of Biostatistics, who are experts in predictive modeling and have done tremendous work forecasting our likelihood of COVID hospitalizations, continue to project an increase beyond current levels lasting at least well into January.   

All across our organization teams have risen to the occasion and have performed expertly, sustaining a very delicate balance between caring for increasing numbers of COVID hospitalizations while maintaining operations supporting care for all other diseases and conditions, some where VUMC is the sole source in the region. I am incredibly proud of your work and want to again express my gratitude for what you do for our patients each day.

While we all hope to be proven wrong, like the experts in COVID modeling, we expect a post-Thanksgiving increase in diagnoses and hospitalizations. Some are calling what we expect to experience a “super surge.”  

We are concerned enough that beginning today, to prioritize resources for the most immediate needs of the region, we will begin deferring select, non-emergent procedures. As we go about this process, we will be doing so in a way that each case will be individually reviewed. Procedures chosen to be deferred will be based on consultation with our clinicians and the safety of each patient involved. And in each case appointments will be rescheduled as quickly as possible.

In addition, to help our front-line teams we will be implementing alternative staffing models in some areas. We referred to this earlier in the year when staff were cross trained so they would be prepared to serve in different roles and in other areas if called upon. There will be more information about this from the hospital leaders for those who are called on to serve.

There are hopeful developments on the horizon as COVID vaccines, along with antibody therapies, including those Vanderbilt researchers have discovered and tested here, are proving to be safe and effective and are in the process of evaluation for FDA emergency authorization for use. Later this week, we expect more welcome news about distribution of a COVID vaccine here in Tennessee.

Please be well and continue to wear your mask, practice physical distancing, and continue to practice good hand hygiene. We need your contribution in the days ahead as we meet our region’s needs in this worldwide crisis.

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD
Deputy Chief Executive Officer
Chief Health System Officer