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Northeast Georgia Health System seeking 510 nurses amid COVID-19 spike
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Deepak Aggarwal, MD, Chief of Medical Staff at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center speaks Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, at a press on Wave 4 of COVID-19. - photo by Scott Rogers

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Northeast Georgia Health System officials said they were looking for 510 nurses amid a spike in COVID-positive patients not seen since February. 

Elizabeth Larkins, the executive director of medical nursing, said the frontline health care workers are “still recovering from the mental and emotional strain of the past 18 months.”

“Many of them tell me they don’t know if they can take another surge,” she said. “We’re already seeing many workers make the difficult decision to leave health care either because of their own health — mental and emotional health — or because they just don’t think they can do it. And the new people that we’re seeing entering these health care professions are burning out quickly.”

Larkins clarified there are more than 340 open registered nurse positions and more than 170 open certified nurse assistant positions across NGHS’ four hospitals.

“When all positions are full, there are more than 3,200 nursing positions in the four hospitals,” Larkins said in a statement.

NGHS officials held a press conference Monday, Aug. 2, addressing the spike in COVID cases. 

The number of COVID-positive patients across NGHS’ facilities is now in the triple digits — 110 as of Monday — a peak not seen since March 1.

As of Monday, roughly 30% of the COVID-positive patients — 31 of 102 — were in critical care. More local COVID-19 data is available gainesvilletimes.com/coronavirus.

Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s medical director of infectious disease medicine, said people with underlying health factors have been “particularly vulnerable throughout the pandemic.”

“While that’s still the case now, we are seeing patients with no underlying health conditions in our hospitals and the average age of our patients is younger now – just 60 years old,” Mannepalli said in a statement. “We’ve cared for patients as young as 18, most of whom are unvaccinated. In the rare instances where someone who is fully vaccinated gets COVID-19 and needs hospital care, they tend to have chronic conditions that suppress their immunity.”

Dr. Deepak Aggarwal, the chief of medical staff, said the seven-day average rate of positive tests in Hall County was 11.7%, the highest rate since February. The current model being observed by NGHS officials shows a peak in the first week of September, Aggarwal said.

As of Monday, the average age of COVID-positive patients was 60, and 85% of these patients are unvaccinated. 

Critical care physician Dr. Erine Raybon-Rojas said the information was not intended to spark fear but to educate the public.

“Right now, the most important decision before us is the choice to get vaccinated,” Raybon-Rojas said. “It’s a deeply important and emotional decision that brings a lot of opinions and emotions. We recognize those feelings and encourage you to spend time focusing on the data and the numbers.”

The doctors speaking at the press conference noted that the vaccine reduces the risk of severe infection that could lead to hospitalization and death. While only half of all NGHS employees are vaccinated, NGHS data showed that 78% of the system’s medical providers are fully vaccinated. 

“If you wait until you end up in the hospital to get the vaccine, then it’s too late,” Raybon-Rojas said.

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