A southwest Georgia hospital that’s reporting about a quarter of the state’s coronavirus deaths says it has reached capacity in three intensive-care units.
The ICUs within Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany are filled with “critically ill Covid-19 patients,” Phoebe Putney Health System said in a news release Wednesday. A fourth ICU was previously opened to care for patients not infected with the virus.
The system has four medical centers in Albany, Americus and Sylvester, as well as other facilities, but Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital is facing the worst of the pandemic. Of Georgia’s 47 deaths from coronavirus, 12 patients had died at the Albany facility as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the hospital system.
“As this public health crisis in southwest Georgia gets more severe, we have been reaching out to other hospitals in our part of the state,” the system’s CEO, Scott Steiner, said. “I am pleased that every one of our regional partners we spoke to in the last 24 hours agreed to assist by accepting patient transfers from us.”
Inside Phoebe Putney Memorial, 35 patients had tested positive, as of Wednesday afternoon, while 90 more patients – and almost 800 people who were not hospitalized – awaited results, Phoebe Putney Health said in a news release.
The state has arranged for a local hotel to serve as a quarantine facility for the homeless and for others who may need a space for isolation, Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said.
Six months of supplies gone in a week
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp had committed additional resources to make 26 beds available in a different facility, Albany officials said Wednesday.
The health system’s most “severely impacted” hospital is in Albany, Steiner said in a statement.
The state will soon be bringing in more ventilators and personal protective equipment, Dorough said.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is when you have more discharges than patients,” he said. “We are not there yet.”
Steiner, the leader of the health system, told CNN last week they began seeing an influx of patients in the second week of March. When that happened, they went through six months’ worth of supplies in less than a week, he said.
To help their masks last longer – a supply which was quickly vanishing – Steiner said a team of staff members were sewing masks together using surgical sheets.
They were hoping to make about 200,000 of those, he said.
“We’ve been standing up our command center for quite some time, waiting for this… for coronavirus to hit the United States” Steiner told CNN last week. “We have been overbuying supplies, but until it truly does, you don’t quite realize what you’re going to be going through.”
“We’re scrambling,” he said.
Epidemiologists responding to local outbreak
A Georgia Department of Health (DPH) spokeswoman told CNN they were noticing “sustained community spread” of the virus in Albany. That prompted the department and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to deploy a team of epidemiologists to study the infections.
Dougherty County, surrounding Albany, issued a shelter-in-place order on March 20, directing all nonessential workers to stay home, bars and restaurants to transition to only takeout services and shutting down gyms “and similar businesses.”
“What we have to do is take precautions today, immediately to eliminate further, unnecessary spread of the virus,” Dorough said Wednesday.
“This is a problem we know we have in Albany and Dougherty County but if we don’t do something about it and our partners in surrounding counties don’t do something about it health systems throughout southwest Georgia are going to be overwhelmed just like Phoebe Putney.”
The team of experts from the DPH and CDC will work with Albany officials to respond to the outbreak by first studying infections in the hard-hit Phoebe Putney hospital as well as long-term care facilities.
“This is a historic public health threat and we must work together with our federal, state and local partners to contain this pandemic,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, DPH commissioner.
CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.