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Area hospitals 'essentially full'; Chief doctor says ‘Past time for our communities to get serious’ about stopping spread
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A patient is wheeled into the Northeast Georgia Medical Center emergency room Monday, July 20, 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers

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Setting recent records for the number of COVID-19 patients, Northeast Georgia Health System’s Gainesville and Braselton hospitals “have been essentially full for the last two weeks,” the Gainesville hospital’s chief of medical staff said Thursday, July 30. 

“Our employees and physicians continue to bring their best every day to care for community, but our resources have been stretched to their limits,” Dr. Clifton Hastings said. 

According to data from the health system, the Gainesville hospital has a capacity of 571 beds, including 112 ICU beds. The total number of occupied beds Thursday night was 561, including 107 in ICU. The hospital had 109 COVID-19 patients as of Thursday morning. 

And the Braselton hospital has a capacity of 165 beds, including 24 ICU beds. The total number of occupied beds Thursday night was 146, including 23 in ICU. The hospital had 46 COVID-19 patients as of Thursday morning. 

“We’ve expanded total capacity at each NGMC hospital to meet the needs of the community,” said Dr. John Delzell, NGHS incident commander. “We’re better prepared now that at any other time during the pandemic, thanks to quick work by our employees and physicians to create new units, convert negative pressure rooms and flex staffing levels.” 

“We’ve really seen the 90 to 100% full levels consistently at the Gainesville and Braselton hospitals during the past two weeks,” said Sean Couch, NGHS spokesman, adding that the “numbers change constantly.” 

The hospitals have been able to transfer some less sick patients to the health system’s hospitals in Barrow and Lumpkin counties “to free up beds and resources,” Hastings said. 

“We have not had to divert or transfer any patients out of our system due to capacity constraints, but it’s taken constant and creative work by our teams to keep patients flowing through hospitals safely and efficiently.” 

The hospital system is “still evaluating and accepting needed transfers from other hospitals” in Northeast Georgia, Hastings said. 

“Given our capacity constraints and current volumes, we are not accepting transfers from outside our region, with the exception of trauma or STEMI heart attack patients.” 

Hastings did say, “We are still offering all services, surgeries and procedures as usual. We will continue to do that as long as we safely can, but it won’t be possible if COVID cases continue to rise.” 

“That’s why we continue to stress that it is absolutely critical that people wear masks, practice social distancing, avoid large crowds and take other simple steps to limit the spread of COVID,” the doctor said. 

“The community answered that call back in April and May, which helped our hospitals narrowly avoid being overrun. Now it’s past time for our communities to get serious about taking those simple steps again. This isn’t about politics. It’s about protecting each other and ultimately saving lives.”