Georgia hospital sees jump in COVID-19 deaths, signs of hope

It's been five weeks since the first COVID-19 patient arrived at the emergency department at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital the night of March 10, 2020.

Since then, the Albany, Georgia, hospital has been inundated with hundreds of sick patients, some of them very ill.

Phoebe Putney Health System CEO Scott Steiner says their situation right now is a little like two-steps-forward, one-step-back. 

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The number of new patients coming in with COVID-19 is beginning to plateau.

Yet, 76 patients have died over the last month, between the Main Phoebe facility and Phoebe Sumter.

Steiner says the patients who are coming into their ER are often critically ill.

“Just in the last 24 hours, we’ve had 9 people pass away," Steiner says. "So, this is still a very deadly and dangerous virus. “

Steiner says Phoebe's doctors and nurses are used to medical emergencies like stroke, or heart attack, where time is critical.  But when people get very sick with COVID-19, he says, things can unravel quickly.

"We've seen people go from they're just a little bit short of breath to, in 30 minutes, they're really short of breath. Then, 30 minutes later, we need to put them on a ventilator, and 30 minutes later, they're coding.”

And there is another challenge: some patients are dying at home.

Steiner says some very ill patients are staying away from the hospital, worried about burdening the already crowded emergency department.

“Unfortunately I think we've seen some people have that are cascading from, ‘I think I'm just a little bit, you know, short of breath,' to, now, they're in real trouble. We've had a number that have passed away at home, and we’re seen that nationwide.

But there are signs of hope at Phoebe.

Over 1,100 Phoebe patients have now recovered, some coming off mechanical ventilators and going home.

With help from Governor Kemp, Steiner says, they are opening two additional ICUs at a nearby facility.

If they experience a surge in sick patients next week, those units can house an additional 27 critical patients.

"We hope that we don’t need to use those, but we’re going to be ready, if we do," he says.

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Steiner says he has only lived in Albany a year, but he is proud to be a part of this community that has supported his hospitals 4,500 employees.

"These folks are fighters," Steiner says.  "And, no one would have wanted what's been thrown at us with the coronavirus.  But, in the end, the sun will come out tomorrow.  Tomorrow, together we will rise.  It’s going to be okay, and we've got each other's backs.”

Steiner says his employees are incredibly grateful to the people of Albany for their support. 

He says one of his employees, who recently spotted a food drive for the community, donated his $1,200 stimulus check to say thank you.

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