I-40 bridge closure adding hours to commutes, causing concern for patients getting to Memphis hospitals

National

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The shutdown of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge is causing causing some to drive as far as Missouri to avoid the one bridge left open in Memphis, and causing concerns about medical patients who may need to get across to Memphis.

What is usually a lifeline for patients coming from Arkansas and being transported to Memphis hospitals is now a major concern for emergency medical service workers.

“That’s scary, especially for people who take calls for lifesaving medical teams that live over there, because you have a certain response time to be ready to intervene in a lifesaving medical procedure,” said Lisa Holt, a registered nurse who lives in Memphis and works in Arkansas.

She took photos and video of the gridlock as she was trying to reach several hospitals in East Arkansas.

“I realized at that moment there was no way that an ambulance could get across there. There is no way anyone could get to work urgently,” Holt said.

To avoid the now-congested I-55 bridge, she’s using two alternate routes. She’s had to drive from Memphis to the Helena, Arkansas bridge, or travel to the bridge in Caruthersville, Missouri to reach her patients, and family members like her 80-year-old father.

Map showing the location of the two closest bridges to Memphis — Caruthersville, Mo. and Helena, Ark.

Both bridges are about an hour and a half’s drive from Memphis. Sometimes Holt’s new commute takes hours.

The congested traffic has the city of West Memphis preparing to use helicopters and boats to transfer patients to Memphis.

“We have made arrangements with helicopter lifts, and we have worked out some of the funding for the lease that we have on the river. So, if we had to use a boat to across the river and transport them into another ambulance to get to the hospital, we’ve worked that part out,” West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon said.

Still, EMS workers like Holt are bracing for this major traffic headache as they work to save lives.

“This is unbelievable. Last year we had to deal with COVID all summer long and we get things back on track and now we have this,” Holt said.

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