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With NGHS beds full of COVID cases, patients being treated in waiting ambulances
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The ambulance entrance at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center is filled Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, at the emergency room. At one point there were a reported nine ambulances lined up with patients. - photo by Scott Rogers

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As COVID-19 continues to surge, the Northeast Georgia Health System is near capacity and some patients have had to wait in ambulances for treatment.

Since the latest wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations started in late July, NGHS has had to treat some patients while they were still in their ambulances waiting for a bed, said Beth Downs, a spokeswoman for NGHS. At one point Wednesday, Aug. 18, there were nine ambulances in the bay waiting to deliver patients, Downs said. 

“The entire hospital system is extremely full at all levels of care right now,” according to a statement from Dr. John Delzell, the health system’s incident commander. “We are near capacity for both medical/surgical beds and ICU beds, and our Incident Command leaders are working hard to stay ahead of the community’s level of need.”

Emergency beds have been intermittently full with dozens of patients waiting on a hospital bed, Delzell wrote. 

“We have put tents back up on our Gainesville and Braselton campuses to help provide capacity for emergency care as well,” he wrote. “But the most concerning thing we’re seeing is the increased severity of illness in this wave and the extremely young age of the patients seeking care in our hospitals – the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated.”

When daily data was updated on Aug. 18, 18 emergency patients were waiting for beds, and 448 out of 477 total beds were in use. The average age of COVID-19 positive patients in care at NGHS is 60. 

NGHS officials are encouraging people seeking a COVID-19 test to go somewhere other than NGHS’s urgent care facility. Some patients are having to wait 2-3 hours to get tested there, and the long lines are affecting wait times for non-COVID patients awaiting urgent care service, Downs said. 

Some pharmacies in the area are offering free COVID-19 testing including CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens locations.

NGHS had 219 COVID-19 positive patients in care on Thursday, and 95% of patients in critical care were unvaccinated.