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NGHS’ staffing capacity brink pushed back as it prepares for mobile unit, extra workers
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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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With plans to take on a mobile medical unit and more health care workers, Northeast Georgia Health System said its model now predicts it will reach its staffing capacity May 22.

The Times previously reported on April 22 that the model used by NGHS predicted a May 4 staffing capacity brink.

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.

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.

NGHS spokesman Sean Couch said the health system is still expecting to receive resources from the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency for a mobile medical unit.

The plan is for the resources to arrive on May 14 and be operational May 18.

While the original plan was for this unit to serve as an ICU unit, Couch said Thursday, April 30, the plan has changed as of now to operate as 20 traditional medical beds.

“It’s going to move into a concrete slab that’s going to be poured in that gravel lot next to the north patient tower,” he said.

Couch said hospital staff are trying to make space within the Gainesville hospital to convert into an additional 24 ICU beds.

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Northeast Georgia Medical Center nurse manager Leah Wallace works in the hospital's new COVID-19 mobile unit Thursday, March 19, 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers

Those in the mobile medical unit may or may not be COVID-19 patients. NGHS will handle setting up the infrastructure for IT, sewage, water, plumbing, telephones and other necessities.

“The idea is that you’re moving what they call more traditional medical patients there, because there’s less of a likelihood that they’re going to need some extensive services like the 24/7 critical monitoring. They’re probably less likely to need to be moved for additional CT scans, X-rays, etc.,” Couch said.

These additional 24 ICU beds would increase the ICU capacity between the Gainesville and Braselton hospitals to 158. It began at 91 beds.

Jackson Healthcare has been helping to identify roughly 100 workers to add to NGHS’ resources, which will be a mix of EMTS, respiratory therapists, critical care nurses and critical care physicians.

They are coming on a rolling basis, with roughly half onboarded as of Thursday.

“Our goal is to get as many of those in place over the next two weeks before the mobile unit is operational,” Couch said.

The current May 22 staffing capacity prediction is based on the staff that has already been brought onboard. More staff could push that date back, Couch said.

“There’s also the variable of how much that curve can flatten, that if people continue to take precautions and if the number of positive cases that we’re seeing start turning a corner and go down instead of up, that will also obviously push that date out further,” Couch said.