A Georgia National Guard emergency medical response team has joined Floyd Medical Center staff to assist with what is expected to be a growing number of COVID-19 patients over the next several weeks.
During a Facebook Live event Wednesday, FMC President Kurt Stuenkel said staff at the hospital are doing their best to model scenarios for a surge in patients.
“People will get sick, people will die,” Stuenkel said. “We’re doing our best here, and there are really great people at this hospital.”
All projection models are imperfect, Stuenkel said, but, “we think sometime mid- to late-April, maybe into May, we’re going to start seeing the surge.”
He explained that there is no way to know how long it will last but the surge would mean a lot of patients.
“Perhaps more patients than we have beds, more patients than we have personnel, more patients than we have doctors — so we’re trying to plan for that,” he said.
To that end, with the assistance of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, a 20-bed temporary unit will be set up soon in the front parking lot of the hospital. And Stuenkel said more could be added later.
The National Guard unit includes two physician assistants, a registered nurse and seven emergency medical technicians.
“We may have to ask for more outside help,” Stuenkel said.
Stuenkel said the third floor of the old Kindred Hospital is equipped with 27 beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients. Most of them are full because people who are being tested for the virus are being treated as if they have already tested positive.
FMC is looking for every inch of available space to put patients in, should the need arise. The recovery room of the now-closed outpatients surgery center is one possibility. The area is not being used because the hospital has stopped doing elective procedures.
“There’s all the equipment, there are cots, there is monitoring equipment, there is a nursing station,” Stuenkel said.
Chief of Patient Services Sheila Bennett said the hospital is screening employees as they come in, to make sure they don’t have a fever, and has virtually eliminated patient visitation.
She said the hospital has 81 negative pressure rooms to isolate COVID-19 patients. The rooms allow for the transfer of air without spreading contaminated air into the rest of the hospital.
Bennett also told Facebook Live viewers that all hospital staff are wearing personal protective equipment to whatever extent is possible. That’s because of the likelihood of patients coming in who are asymptomatic — not displaying any symptoms of COVID-19 yet still capable of spreading the virus.
She said the materials management team has done a good job of keeping needed equipment in stock. However, face shields are being sanitized and reused to extend the life of the N95 masks that are in short supply.
Dr. Ken Jones, the new chief medical officer, said FMC is trying to conserve supplies and personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, Stuenkel said that, as the situation continues to worsen, they’re taking steps to broaden their supply lines.
Jones also offered an explanation of the difference between the flu and COVID-19. The flu has an incubation period of one to four days while COVID-19 is typically five to six days — but could be as long as 14 days.
The flu generally hits pretty hard over a period of a few hours, Jones said, whereas COVID-19 symptoms could come gradually.
He stressed that there is no specific course of treatment for COVID-19, so the most effective prevention requires social distancing, constant washing of hands and covering the face and nose any time you feel a sneeze or cough coming on.
“We can’t preach enough how important it is for this social distancing,” Jones said.