Hit hard by coronavirus, Georgia hospital sees 'light at the end of the tunnel'

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Georgia, is now a month into an outbreak that has killed more than 50 patients, sickened more 1,500.

It began when guests at two funerals in the area began coming to the hospital's emergency department complaining of fever and difficulty breathing.

Phoebe Health System CEO Scott Steiner believes they may be finally turning a corner.

Sign up for FOX 5 email alerts

As of Wednesday, 635 Phoebe patients have recovered from this novel coronavirus.

Steiner says 14 once critical patients, have come off ventilators and are breathing on their own again.

Several have been discharged, some applauded by staff, who lined the halls to send them off.

"I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that tunnel is still long," Steiner says. "We still have, I would call it, a slowing.  It has not stopped."

Download the FOX 5 Atlanta app for breaking news and weather alerts.

Steiner does not believe the outbreak in southwest Georgia has peaked.

"Our ICUs are still full," he says.  "We've got 49 patients in the ICUs, all of them COVID patients, all COVID-positive patients.  And, 41 of those are on ventilators.  So we still have a lot of illnesses, a lot of sicknesses.  We had 40 people come into our emergency room yesterday that weren't feeling well. A few of those were admitted."

The hospital has ordered 40 additional ventilators, and, with the help of the state, plans to open a sixth ICU at Phoebe North that can house 20 critical patients.

Steiner says his staff is tired and grieving the loss of 54 patients over the last month.

But, he says, he is seeing resilience.

This weekend, while bringing food to the ICU staff, Steiner watched a woman be taken off a ventilator, after 3 weeks on the machine.

SEE ALSO: Kemp extending Georgia's shelter-in-place order until April 30

A hospital chaplain in full protective gear held up a phone wrapped in a plastic bag so the woman could speak to her family members on FaceTime.

"And, what she kept saying was, 'I don't want to die,'" Steiner says.  "The doctor was tearing up.  The team was tearing up.  They were applauding, they were clapping. Because all they had really see were a lot of sick patients, and a lot of death.  So, this was such a magical moment for them."

Steiner says he's a believer that God only gives you what you can handle.

"Albany and Dougherty County, we're up to the challenge," Steiner says.  "I keep telling people, we've got this. It's going to be okay.  The sun will come out tomorrow.  And we're starting to see that."

App users click here for live updates

Know how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting Georiga

Best prevention measures:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least twenty seconds.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces


RELATED: CoronavirusNOW.com, FOX launches national hub for COVID-19 news and updates.

Live map: Tracking coronavirus in Georgia