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What changes NGHS will keep in place after pandemic slows
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Northeast Georgia Health System is adding more critical care beds, even for post-COVID times as their coverage area grows. The hospital is also taking down the mobile unit this month, a sign that they don't need quite as much capacity for COVID patients as they did in September. - photo by Scott Rogers

Even after the COVID-19 pandemic calms, the Northeast Georgia Health System plans to increase its critical care capacity. 

The health system was forced to serve patients in unconventional places during the biggest waves of the pandemic, including providing care in the back of ambulances, in hallways and in outdoor mobile units. COVID-19 numbers in the health system have dropped in recent weeks from a Sept. 9 peak of 333 COVID-19 positive patients, influenced by the delta variant. As of Friday, Oct. 15, there were 127 COVID-19 patients in the health system, with 36 patients waiting for test results. 

In the last month, the number of COVID-19 patients in the health system has dropped steadily, though officials still advise caution. 

“While the pandemic is far from over, we know we will increase the number of critical care beds across our hospital system,” Dr. Larry Dudas, medical director of critical care, wrote in a statement. “That’s what our community needs long term, regardless of COVID, as the population continues to grow. We need to grow to anticipate and meet the future need.”

Pre-pandemic the health system’s Gainesville campus had 67 critical care beds and Braselton had 18. It plans to expand to 81 beds in Gainesville and 24 in Braselton on a regular basis. During the January 2021 peak, Gainesville had 150 beds and Braselton had 44, and staff have been managing the number of beds each day during the latest wave caused by the delta variant. 

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Northeast Georgia Health System is adding more critical care beds, even for post-COVID times as their coverage area grows. The hospital is also taking down the mobile unit this month, a sign that they don't need quite as much capacity for COVID patients as they did in September. - photo by Scott Rogers

The health system has used a state-loaned mobile unit to cope with expanded critical care needs, but it will take the tent down later this month, Delzell wrote in a statement. An oncology floor in the North Patient Tower was converted into an intensive care unit during the pandemic and is still in use for the time being, said Beth Downs, a spokeswoman for the health system. 

Officials are still adjusting the number of critical care beds each day based on demand and available resources, Elizabeth Larkins, executive director of medical nursing, wrote in a statement. 

“It’s stressful on everyone involved, especially given the national nursing shortage, but we have to find ways to continually adapt to meet the challenge our community faces,” Larkins wrote.

The health system will increase space at its Gainesville campus soon, including a recently approved 12-story tower to be built in two phases between 2022 and 2030. The new tower would be 660,000 square feet, according to planning documents and could add 120 beds in the first phase and 72 beds in the second phase.

Workers are currently renovating the existing North Patient Tower in Gainesville to create a new medical observation unit to handle increased capacity as needed, Downs wrote. The renovations would create a 14,000-square-foot space on the ground floor, including 24 observation rooms and support space for staff. It is expected to open by the end of the year, Downs wrote. 

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Northeast Georgia Health System is adding more critical care beds, even for post-COVID times as their coverage area grows. The hospital is also taking down the mobile unit this month, a sign that they don't need quite as much capacity for COVID patients as they did in September. - photo by Scott Rogers
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