Why flood of COVID patients takes toll on Ga. hospitals’ other services

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 2:11 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - More Georgia hospitals are canceling elective surgeries as they’re overrun with COVID-19 inpatients.

In the CSRA, all of the hospitals are delaying elective procedures and only scheduling non-emergency surgeries that do not require overnight stays.

In Atlanta, Grady Memorial Hospital CEO John Haupert said the hospital was “inundated” with patients over Labor Day even as it officially diverted ambulances.

COVID-19 patient numbers have been hovering around a record 6,000 for more than a week.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson and David Scott are urging Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to order elective surgeries postponed in all Georgia hospitals. The Republican Kemp is refusing.

In some cases, it’s not lack of space for the patients that hospitals are struggling with; it’s lack of staff to care for them.

An open bed is “not a bed to us unless there’s staff there to take care of them,” said Laurie Ott, vice president of human resources and community resources at University Hospital in Augusta.

For Augusta University Health, every physical bed they have is full but with regular hospital wings becoming intensive care wings, staffing is stretched thin and they need more help.

“We have people waiting in the emergency dept. for beds in the hospital, which then backs up the emergency department. When you come into the emergency dept. you’re going to experience a delay because the system is overloaded,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, vice president and chief medical officer at Augusta University Health System.

AU is lucky to receive some state assistance to pay for travel nurses. But in a pandemic with so much need, the budget only goes so far because it’s a bidding war to hire them.

In South Carolina, more than 85 percent of the staffed intensive-care beds are full; 43 percent of those are COVID patients.

However, some hospitals are even worse off. Of the 65 South Carolina hospitals with intensive-care beds, 24 rate at 90 percent occupancy or above.

“We are significantly short-staffed. We are significantly full. We have a lot of people coming into the hospitals that need help. And what that means is you can have significant wait times,” said South Carolina Children’s Hospital Collaborative Chief Operating Officer Melanie Matney. “That nine children, who at no fault received this virus, is nine too many.”

Most of the COVID inpatients flooding CSRA hospitals are unvaccinated. Here’s a look at the inpatient statistics for Thursday:

  • Augusta University Medical Center: 123 inpatients, down five from Wednesday. Of the 123 inpatients, 117 are unvaccinated. Of the 54 in intensive care and 47 on ventilators, all are unvaccinated.
  • University Hospital: 157 inpatients, unchanged from Wednesday. Of the 157 inpatients, 138 are unvaccinated. Of the 35 in intensive care and 22 on ventilators, all but one are unvaccinated.
  • Aiken Regional Medical Center: 44 inpatients, down three from Wednesday. The hospital said 40 of the inpatients are confirmed as unvaccinated.
  • Doctors Hospital: 75 inpatients, down six from Wednesday.

Nationwide, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecast predicts COVID-19 hospitalizations will remain stable or uncertain over the next four weeks.

That’s the third week in a row with the same expectations.

The CDC projects COVID deaths in the United States could hit 710,000 by Oct. 2.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the death toll is currently more than 650,000.

Just over 53% of Americans are considered fully vaccinated, the CDC says.

Also in the news ...

LOCAL SCHOOLS: A day after South Carolina health officials issued new guidance on when schools should close due to COVID, the Aiken County district doesn’t plan on closing any schools right now but watch them on a . They plan to look at these schools closely on a case by case basis. District leaders will be discussing the new guidance on Tuesday next week on whether things need to be changed with how the district operates.

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