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NGHS is using this model to predict COVID-19 peak. Here’s how it works
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Nurses and staff work in a dedicated COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit on the fifth floor of Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville’s South Patient Tower. - photo by Northeast Georgia Health System

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Hall County will hit its peak need for medical-surgical and ICU beds in early June, according to a model the Northeast Georgia Health System has been using.

That’s much later than some other models have shown, and hospital officials stressed the models change as variables change, such as the percentage of people believed to be social distancing and the amount of beds and staff available, which officials have been working to increase.

The model being used is called COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics and was developed by the Predictive Healthcare team at the University of Pennsylvania’s school of medicine.

It has been cited by the American Hospital Association and the Georgia Hospital Association as being a strong and tested model, NGHS chief strategic executive Tracy Vardeman said.

“It really allows us to enter information about the specific population we serve, in this case Hall County and the surrounding region,” Vardeman said. “You can modify some of the assumptions in the model. As we get new information or learn information, it allows us to tailor the model more specifically to us.”

NGHS officials have been working with the model for several weeks, projecting the number of new COVID-19 admissions each day along with the hospital census of COVID-19 patients.

“It already appears to us that we’re not going to follow the path of the state because of the surge that is predicted here. We want our community to recognize that and continue to be vigilant,” Vardeman said.

The parameters entered into the model include population, hospital market share, number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, how long social distancing measures have been in place, average days in the ICU, average days on a ventilator and more.

The model shows a census of COVID-19 patients along the vertical axis and time along the horizontal axis, with estimated and actual use of medical-surgical beds and ICU beds plotted along the chart.

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Courtesy Northeast Georgia Health System

For NGHS’ modeling, Vardeman said they have focused on the population primarily in Hall County and the contiguous counties. They have excluded Forsyth County because they would not normally draw a large number of patients from there and included only certain Gwinnett County ZIP codes where they normally draw patients.

“There’s also some parameters in there around social distancing, which is probably the most ambiguous part of the model to be honest with you,” Vardeman said. “The Georgia Hospital Association has utilized a percentage of social distancing at 45%, recognizing that in the community there are essential services and things that are still going on.”

If nothing changed, according to the model, May 4 would be the day that demand for care would outpace ability to staff appropriately.

“If you go out to the very height of the surge, we would need to open up — if our model is correct — across all our campuses in some shape or form an additional 181 medical-surgical beds and an additional 57 ICU beds,” Vardeman said. “... We think we can do that part. We think we can open up the beds and take care of our patients, but then we would also have to staff those beds. So the staffing piece of it is the part that will probably our limiting factor, and that’s where the state’s help to help us get staffed up as we need those incremental personnel.”

NGHS spokesman Sean Couch said the hope is that daily progress being made by the NGHS staff and the state in acquiring additional staffing will help push that date back.

“We also really need the community support to do their part to continue to practice the isolation and social distancing and expert recommendations to help flatten the curve. That’s also going to allow us to push that back,” Couch said.