The financially struggling Greenwood Leflore Hospital on Monday moved hospital patients to other facilities and closed clinics as the result of a “defective sewage line,” the hospital announced in a Facebook post.
It’s unclear how many total patients were moved and discharged. Ten people, including those in the hospital’s ICU, were transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center Grenada, about 45 minutes away, said Marc Rolph, a spokesman for UMMC.
Mississippi MED-COM, the emergency communications center housed at UMMC, assisted in finding beds elsewhere for the admitted patients at the 208-bed hospital.
A hospital employee who spoke to Mississippi Today on the condition that her name not be used said there has been an “extremely foul odor filling the elevators and certain other areas in the hospital” for several days now.
The hospital’s official announcements offered few details about the problem.
“Greenwood Leflore Hospital continues to experience a hospital-wide issue with a defective sewage line,” the hospital posted on Facebook after 4 p.m. Monday. “Currently we are discharging or transferring all inpatients. For the safety of our patients and staff, until further notice we are canceling surgeries and outpatient testing.”
In the first post about the issue, around mid-morning, the hospital said it was “assessing the situation with our inpatients.”
Hospital spokeswoman Christine Hemphill did not immediately return a call requesting comment Monday night.
Dr. Roderick Givens, who practices radiation oncology at the hospital, was among the doctors whose clinics were forced to close because of the sewage issue. He said that hospital leadership had told a group of physicians in a briefing around lunch time that the problem was a leak somewhere underneath the hospital, which hadn’t been located as of the briefing.
“They’re closing the hospital until that can be located, contained and everybody’s safe, because obviously you don’t want to have a hospital facility that’s got the odor as well as the potential hazard from a bacteria with a sewer line potentially affecting inpatients as well as outpatients,” he said.
The Greenwood Commonwealth reported earlier Monday that the hospital said it did not have a timeline for reopening.
At least two state agencies were contacted about the event. The state health department supported the hospital during patient evacuation, said Jim Craig, the department’s senior deputy and director of health protection.
“MSDH staff were on scene coordinating information sharing on hospital status, evacuation status, and resource needs to support the evacuation,” the department said in an email. “MSDH Division of Health Facilities Licensure and Certification provided necessary notifications to CMS and will work to ensure the facility is cleared for occupancy once repairs are complete.”
Malary White, chief communications officer at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said MEMA had been alerted but had not sent any personnel or equipment to the scene.
“We monitor the situation, in case the county gets overwhelmed we step in to help (by request),” she said.
One facet of the sewage problem was a blockage that also affected surrounding streets. Eddie Curry, the former director of Greenwood Wastewater Treatment, was at the hospital Monday to help out. He said the crew used a high-pressure hose to clear the pipe blockage. Then workers used a vacuum truck to clean some of the debris and waste left behind.
“Grease or rags, and or anything could get here and build up in the mouth of that pipe and it could stop it, won’t let it flow,” he said. “But once you take the sewage truck, go in and put water pressure to it, it unclogs it. You may not have trouble for the next three or four years.”
Curry said as far as he was concerned, the problem was fixed when he left in the afternoon.
Eddie Payne, the current Wastewater Treatment Director, said he wasn’t aware of a leak underneath the hospital. Sewage or dirty water may have backed up while the pipes were blocked, requiring clean-up work after the blockage was cleared.
The relationship between the blockage and the hospital’s closure was not clear Monday night, but a leak may have been caused by pressure building up in the pipes as a result of the blockage.
Givens said his patients’ treatment won’t be interrupted if the hospital closure lasts a few days or so.
“If it’s a long-term problem then we’ll have to look at some other measures, for example if we have to get them treated at another facility or something like that,” he said. “But I’m anticipating that we should be back and up and running within a couple of days.”
The hospital, which is jointly owned by Leflore County and the city of Greenwood, laid off 30 people in May to offset losses during the pandemic. It announced in June that it is in talks with UMMC on a joint operation agreement.
“GLH began the process of seeking affiliation partners as the hospital emerged from the Delta and Omicron waves of the pandemic,” the hospital said in a press release. “Affiliation, particularly with a larger system like UMMC, the state’s only academic medical center and largest hospital, can result in cost efficiencies that are necessary to attain sustainable operations over the long term.”
In July, CEO Jason Studley resigned.
Kate Royals contributed reporting.