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Update, March 20: Field units became operational Friday, March 20, at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville and Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton. Braselton’s unit started running in the morning, and Gainesville’s unit started in the afternoon.
Northeast Georgia Health System leaders hammered on the severity of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the importance for the community to act as they addressed the public in a press conference March 19 outside the Gainesville hospital.
“It’s imperative for the community to understand what we’re actually dealing with … Is this going to really be as bad as people say? I just want to be very clear that, yes, it is very serious,” Dr. Shravan Kethireddy, Northeast Georgia Medical Center director of critical care said Thursday.
“This is not just the health system responsibility that we take care of people that come in, because we will do that and we will do a great job at that,” he said moments before giving media a look inside a mobile unit that’s been set up to treat potential coronavirus patients.
“It’s also a community responsibility to realize that this is biology. This is not something that we negotiate with.”
Cutting transmission of COVID-19 is key, Kethireddy said, including adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines of quarantining, staying at home and washing hands. He said the number of cases will continue to rise.
As of noon Thursday, there were five cases confirmed in Hall. Leaders also said testing has been limited and they must prioritize who can receive a test.
“Just so you know that I’m not making it up, there is an example out there and that is Italy. … Their exponential growth was unprecedented, and even though they prepared, it quickly overwhelmed the health care system,” Kethireddy said. “… And it is with that concern that we’ve acted with the level of urgency and need that you see here.”
NGHSMobileUnitTourOfficials with the Northeast Georgia Health System offer a tour through mobile units set up at its hospitals to help treat potential COVID-19 patients.
The death toll from the virus in Italy has topped 3,400 people.
“The biggest concern is that perhaps the community is not taking some of this news very seriously or as seriously as they should, especially when it comes to terms of self-isolating, quarantining, social distancing whatever you want to call it,” NGHS spokesman Sean Couch said.
“This is our window of time ... to really follow these directions for care and isolation. If we can achieve that together, we can … hopefully prevent us moving to a case where our health systems are overwhelmed. If we move to that point, unfortunately our caregivers are going to be faced with making difficult decisions about who receives care.”
The health system has erected mobile units at the Gainesville and Braselton hospitals, adding capacity of 13 spaces at each hospital.
That’s in addition to 84 beds and 15 hallway spaces at the Gainesville hospital and 21 beds and 10 to 12 hallway spaces at Braselton, according to Angela Gary, executive director of trauma and emergency services.
Mohak Dave, chief of emergency medicine at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said the health system must adapt to changing conditions, which means how they use the space may change. For now, the plan is to use it for those presenting with respiratory conditions in order to prevent exposure of other patients and staff.
The units should go live Friday, March 20.
“Higher acuity patients will still be triaged and cared for in the appropriate setting,” Dave said.
He also noted that “staff safety is paramount.”
Before health care professionals take care of a patient, they need to ask themselves, “Are you yourself safe? Is the scene safe?” Dave said.
Dr. J. Clifton Hastings, chief of staff, said he has found “that the medical staff has been willing to step up and participate ... in ways many of us haven’t done before.”
He and Dave recognized doctors, nurses and other health care professionals for their efforts.
“The bottom line is … our strength will be shown ultimately in our ability to come together and manage and work through this crisis,” Hastings said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done so far.”
Shannon Casas, The Times' editor in chief, contributed to this story.