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Georgia hospitals see increase in patients as COVID-19 numbers keep climbing

Here's how the numbers break down at two of Georgia's largest healthcare systems.

ATLANTA — On Tuesday, Georgia hospitals say they admitted 209 new or suspected COVID-19 patients, bringing the statewide total to 2,741 people receiving medical care for the virus.

Administrators have started shuffling beds, staff and equipment to meet the need, as several hospitals are treating more positive patients now – than in the first wave of this pandemic.

“We just don’t have the bed capacity to take care of the volume we’re seeing,” said Dr. Robert Jansen, the Chief Medical Officer for Grady Health System.

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In the past three weeks, the number of COVID patients receiving care at Grady Hospital has tripled according to Dr. Jansen. It’s gone so high, as to break the peak in active cases previously set in April. On three different days in April, Grady reported 79 confirmed COVID patients to Georgia Emergency Management (GEMA). Tuesday, Dr. Jansen said the hospital was treating 82.

Emory Healthcare, with its six network hospitals receiving COVID patients in the metro, also surged past its peak with 244 positive cases on July 9, the latest data provided to 11Alive by GEMA. The peak during the first wave of this pandemic, was 207 set on April 15.

“What I’m beginning to see now in our emergency department are now older people who have been exposed to these younger people, and they’re getting infected,” explained Jansen.

Credit: WXIA

“The public is the deciding factor in regards to hospital capacity. We can’t dictate who comes in, who is diagnosed with COVID, that’s all up to the individual,” said Anna Adams with the Georgia Hospital Association, noting that only through masking and social distancing can we stop the spread.

Adams says it’s not just about bed count, but the ability to staff those beds. Some hospitals are using furloughed workers from other hospitals to fill gaps. Others are still employing doctors and nurses from out of state, given temporary licenses when COVID first hit. The list of approved temporary medical professional licenses now spans 51 pages.

Still, as medical professionals themselves get sick, it’s not enough.

“We’ve got hospitals that are using traveling nurses, hospitals that are using out of state nurses, staffing companies. We have hospitals that are still relying on national guard assistance for pre-screenings and kind of man their entrances,” said Adams.

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Governor Brian Kemp announced last week the World Congress Center would reopen. At the beginning of the pandemic when the site was set up to serve 200 patients, fewer than 50 were sent there for care. Most patients were either sick and waiting on test results, or recovering and preparing to go home.

Jansen says if it’s going to ease the burden on hospitals this time, it’s going to have to serve a different role.

“We would have to be able to transfer patients from our medical floors that are still being actively treated for example with antibiotics, or remdesivir, fluids and oxygen therapy," said Jansen. 

The Governor announced Tuesday a new contract with Piedmont Healthcare to create ICU beds at the Marcus Tower of the Piedmont Atlanta campus. They say the facility will have 62 beds to start "with the capability to scale up based on demand."

In the announcement, Governor Kemp's office says they will be using existing medical staffing contracts to provide healthcare workers to the facility. 

"I'm very grateful to Kevin Brown and the entire Piedmont Healthcare team for their willingness to partner with the state of Georgia and provide this critical resource to patients and surrounding hospitals," said Governor Kemp in an email statement to 11Alive. 

This facility is expected to be ready within the next week. 

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