Vanderbilt, running out of beds, postpones non-urgent surgeries

Posted at 3:40 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-06 10:21:15-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Non-urgent surgeries at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are being postponed according to Chief Dr. Seth Karp, Surgeon in Chief at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"How long do you foresee having to postpone these non-emergency surgeries?," NewsChannel 5 asked in an interview with Dr. Karp. "I would say until people decide that they're willing to get vaccinated," Karp said over a Zoom call.

To clarify, Vanderbilt does not require a patient to be vaccinated in order to have surgery.

A limited number of scheduled inpatient procedures in Vanderbilt's Adult Hospital will be rescheduled until "the current wave of the virus can be brought under tighter control," according to an internal memo shared with NewsChannel 5.


VUMC ran out of hospital beds Wednesday, and Dr. Karp believes it will happen again.

"We are converting units as best as we can, we are using units for overnight stays whenever we can, we're putting patients in short-stay areas whenever we can. All of the hospitals are full and I think this is the message- this is not just Vanderbilt," he explained.

Daily, doctors are having to evaluate if they have enough resources and staff to care for all patients that day.

"We have a huddle every morning to determine whether or not we can take care of all the patients that are at the hospital and that are coming into our emergency room. And we made the decision yesterday that the answer to that was no," Karp explained. "So what we had to do was we had to take some scheduled non-urgent surgeries and postpone concern is that could get worse."

It's a problem hospitals throughout Tennessee and the country are facing.

Hospitals from Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky and others have called VUMC looking for beds, "and nobody in the region has beds."


Less than four weeks ago VUMC’s 7-hospital system was caring for a total of 10 patients admitted for COVID-19. By Thursday, a total of 83 patients were battling the virus in VUMC hospitals, according to an internal memo.

"That's a very rapid rise. That's a similar rise, and perhaps even a worse rise from the very beginning of the pandemic when things got really, really bad," said Dr. Karp in regards to the recent spike in cases.

The spike in cases is occurring at Vanderbilt in sync with an increase in admissions associated with trauma season, a staffing shortage due to COVID-19, and an increased demand for surgical service.

It's the same at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, which is seeing record admissions through a seasonal shift in pediatric viral illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus, according to the internal memo.


Dr. Karp said it is up to the unvaccinated to help bring COVID-19 cases down.

"This is a preventable disease. We've got to take care of ourselves and get the vaccine but we've got to take care of our neighbors, our friends, our family, the people we care about and the people in our community," Karp said. "The way that we do that is by getting the vaccine. We can do that and we will do that, I have no doubt about that, I just hope it happens soon."


In recent weeks, Tennessee has started to see a sharp uptick of new cases, the vast majority of which are among the unvaccinated. Tennessee Dept. of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said more than 93% of all active cases, 95% of new deaths and 90% of current hospitalizations are unvaccinated individuals.

Just in the last week, Tennessee saw a 204% increase in new cases. The seven-day average of daily new cases is 1,871 and the state is seeing a 13% positivity rate of COVID-19 tests. Piercey said similar to the rest of the United States, Tennessee's new cases are mostly the delta variant, at more than 80%.

The vaccine uptake statewide is up 22% from the week prior and 94 out of the state's 95 counties recorded an increase in new vaccinations.

At VUMC, more than 90% of the COVID-19 patients in the medical intensive care unit are unvaccinated. Williamson Medical Center (WMC) reported a significant increase of COVID-19 patients with a 633% increase over the past three weeks.