Northeast Georgia Health System May Be Forced to Ration Care, Asks for Community’s Help

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

As the number of COVID-19 cases across the region, state and nation continue to climb, Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) leaders are asking for your help – and warning another post-holiday spike may force them to start rationing care.

“We’re struggling to find staff and space to care for people, and our frontline workers are exhausted,” said Clifton Hastings, MD, Chief of Medical Staff for Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC). “If COVID cases continue to increase, we may be forced to start making decisions about who we can treat effectively and who we have to send elsewhere or turn away. That’s a decision no physician should have to make, and a situation no one in our community should have to face.”

On November 24, two days before Thanksgiving, NGMC hospitals and long-term care locations were treating 133 COVID-positive patients. That total has more than doubled in the following month, up to a record 296 patients as of December 23. The average percentage of tests the Health System administer that come back positive has also risen sharply, up from 16% to 28% during the same timeframe – matching the previous record set in July.

“Early in the pandemic, we learned that limiting some services and expanding others can create additional space to care for patients – which we’ve continued to do – but we’re still faced with the challenge of maintaining enough qualified physicians and nurses to provide high-quality care,” says John Delzell, MD, COVID-19 Incident Commander for NGHS. “We’re extremely thankful for the staffing support the state has supplied, and we will continue to request additional help, but hospitals across the state all need those same resources.”

NGHS received nearly 5,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on December 17 and has vaccinated approximately 2,000 frontline workers during the past week. The Health System also received around 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine on December 23. More shipments are expected in early January.

“It’s important to remember that vaccination isn’t a magic bullet that will end the pandemic immediately,” says Supriya Mannepalli, MD, NGMC’s Medical Director of Infectious Disease Medicine. “People are tired of hearing this, but the best way to protect yourself, the people you love and your community this holiday season is to not visit family and friends outside your household, or take precautions if you do.”

 According to Wednesday’s COVID-19 Daily Status Report on the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website, Hall County has seen more COVID activity than any county in the state outside the metro Atlanta area. Hall County ranks:

  • #4 in Confirmed Cases per 100K – 7,847
  • #5 in Confirmed Cases – 16,193
  • #5 in Hospitalizations – 1,526
  • #9 in Deaths – 210

Other counties in the northeast Georgia region that also appear among the top 30 in those categories include Gwinnett, Forsyth, Jackson, Barrow, Stephens, Habersham and Franklin.

“It’s clear that Hall and surrounding counties have been hit especially hard during the pandemic,” says Richard Higgins, Hall County Commission Chairman. “There are a variety of factors at play, but one common factor we can all control are the personal steps we take wear a mask, wash our hands and watch our distance.”
“We all want to keep working, keep our local businesses open and keep our kids in school,” says Kit Dunlap, President of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “Taking small, inconvenient steps now, like not having large holiday gatherings, will help our community avoid bigger and more difficult steps in the future – like rationing care. Please celebrate safely.”

Get holiday tips, vaccine information and more helpful resources at nghs.com/COVID.

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