BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — Blount Memorial Hospital said it is receiving a mobile morgue, saying it has become "sadly necessary" to ensure there is enough morgue space after seeing 24 deaths due to COVID-19 since the beginning of August.
"People are dying needlessly in this community, and they’re going to continue at alarming rates if we don’t work together to stop this virus," Blount Memorial said Wednesday shortly after it announced the measure. "There are people dying of COVID-19, but we’re still caring for a lot of very sick people in our community who do not have COVID but who experience medical emergencies such as heart attacks, stroke, car accidents and so on."
Last week, the hospital issued a joint statement alongside other East Tennessee regional hospitals urging people to get vaccinated as COVID-19 patients continue to fill up ICUs across the region.
"Across our health systems, more than 80% of people who are hospitalized due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated," Blount Memorial said.
The Tennessee National Guard was also called in to assist the hospital with staffing.
"Not only are we once again facing significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases, we are also facing a shortage of health care workers in the U.S., and Tennessee is no exception," the joint statement read. "Even with this assistance, as more people come to our hospitals, we still have fewer health care professionals to provide care."
Blount Memorial has also taken other steps to free up space, such as pausing certain elective procedures.
Visitation at the hospital is also limited to one specific person for hospitalized patients.
Children under 16 years old will also not be allowed in as visitors. Everyone entering the hospital will also be required to wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose for the entire time they are there.
Officials said there would be some exceptions to the visitation policy, including in end-of-life situations.
Patients will identify their designated visitor when they are admitted to the hospital, according to officials. Their decision will stay in place for the duration of their stay, officials said.
At the Family Birthing Center, a support person will be allowed in during delivery along with an additional designated visitor. However, only one of them can be in the facility at a time.
Patients will be allowed one support person during emergency, surgical and outpatient services, hospital officials said.
Visitation hours will stay the same, 10 a.m. through 8 p.m. daily.