TIFTON — Southwell Medical Chief Executive Officer Christopher Dorman said COVID-19 is back in the Tift County area and "it's back with a vengeance.”
“The volume has been higher than anything we’ve experienced before," Dorman told the hospital authority last week. "I’ve never gone on diversion in my life and we’ve been on ICU diversion since I believe last Thursday.”
Dorman said ICU diversion means ICU beds are full and any critical care patients have to be diverted to another hospital facility where there are open ICU beds, since there is no bed availability locally.
“We’re working very hard to come up with alternative solutions to ICU but patients are coming in quicker than we can get them out of the unit,” he said.
He said full ICUs is an issue throughout Georgia.
“The nearest ICU bed I could find when I was trying to transfer a patient out was in Chattanooga, Tenn.,” he said. “Most of the hospitals in Georgia, especially the larger hospitals, are at or around diversion status. They might have one bed, but most of the ICU areas are full.”
Dorman said lab testing has been and will continue to improve, which will help get patients in and out more efficiently and will help target resources to people who most need them. He told the authority that the hospital has an adequate supply of remdesivir and patients who need to be on the anti-viral medication are on it.
Dorman said the hospital has enough personal protective equipment for visitors and staff but they face challenges with staffing when employees become sick.
He said hospital employees are under constant stress while caring for patients, particularly the staff in the ICU unit, where several patients are on ventilators.
“Staffing is overburdened and tired,” he said. “The nurses that are having to take care of these patients, the respiratory therapists, the doctors; there’s a lot of work involved in taking care of these patients. Constantly running in and out of rooms and running codes has been incredibly burdensome for those people.
"We’re doing everything we can to try to keep them engaged, but it is a very stressful time for them. I think (earlier this month), we had more codes than we typically see over the course of a month. I think we coded around 20 times just in the Saturday, Sunday ICU area. Typically, we would not see 20 in the course of a month.”
He said that is typical with managing so many COVID patients.
One of the board members asked if Dorman thought the average number of cases would rise. Dorman said he didn’t know.
“I’m hopeful that what we’re experiencing right now is a July 4th wave where everybody got together and shared their COVID,” he said. “I’m hopeful it’ll slow down, but I don’t know. As more and more are infected, more and more will become infected. There are a lot of people that we’ve spoken with that have been at July 4th picnics or family gatherings where maybe one individual in the family might have had it or they were an asymptomatic carrier. I’ve spoken with several of our patients that have told me they wish they hadn’t gone to that picnic.
"We’re preparing to take care of this as it is right now and looking for alternatives to expend our capacity to take care of even more patients in the event that it does worsen.”
Dorman said the hospital system, like many others, took a financial hit when the pandemic started.
“We have seen some rebound,” he said. “We’re still not out of the woods, but the month of June was much better than what we saw in March, April and May. If July continues like it is, we’ll probably be OK but we are several million dollars behind our budget.”
Construction is continuing on the expanded emergency room and patient tower, which is within budget and is expected to be completed late 2021.