COVID-19  Piedmont

Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, shown here, and St. Mary’s Hospital are Athens-Clarke Countys two main hospitals. They serve a region of more than 627,000 people, according to researchers from the University of Georgia College of Public Health. 

The CEOs of Athens’ two main hospitals said Monday they have decent equipment supply chains, but that could change due to uncertainty around how long COVID-19 will last.

The hospitals serve Athens-Clarke and 16 surrounding counties, seven of which do not have a hospital. Athens has the most robust health care system in the area, according to experts from the University of Georgia College of Public Health.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Athens-Clarke County seems to be stabilizing, but surrounding counties are seeing increased numbers of cases, said Michael Burnett and Montez Carter, CEOs of Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center and St. Mary’s Hospital, respectively.

PARMC has a good supply chain for personal protective equipment and has received donations from the community, said Burnett.

St. Mary’s Hospital remains “OK” but is “teetering around being nervous” because it doesn’t have a large stock of supplies, said Carter.

Burnett said sourcing supplies has been an ongoing challenge due to the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last. Working through the pandemic is “going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” Carter said. He said models have predicted a surge in cases anywhere from late April to late May, but these may not be accurate and will likely change over time.

The CEOs spoke with David Bradley, president of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, in a teleconference Monday to discuss the situation with the disease.

Burnett said shelter-in-place ordinances have had an impact, but surrounding counties lagged with these orders. Burnett said PARMC would be helping to care for patients and nursing homes from these areas.

The shelter-in-place order that Gov. Brian Kemp passed April 2 suspended local governments’ ability to enforce their own shelter-in-place ordinances, meaning the state’s order overrides the shelter-in-place ordinance the ACC Mayor and Commission passed March 19.

“I think it was a great step forward by the governor to… enact the shelter-in-place,” Carter said. “Even if we see patients or cases increase — that it increases at a level that we don’t overwhelm our capacity and our infrastructure.”

As for medical equipment, Burnett said PARMC has “a large number” of ventilators already in-house, and has plans to use other equipment, such as anesthesia machines, as back-up should ventilators run out.

Drug supplies, specifically for drugs used on patients in the intensive care unit, are a concern for PARMC, but Piedmont Healthcare centers are working together to support each other on supply chain efforts, Burnett said.

PARMC began performing COVID-19 tests in-house on patients last week. Previously, PARMC had to send out tests and wait up to 10 days for results, Burnett said. In-house tests allow the hospital to see results within “a couple hours,” Burnett said.

Burnett said PARMC received another shipment of additional testing kits Monday morning. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency ships most of the supplies to “hot spots” which leaves Burnett wondering when PARMC will receive the shipments they need.

However, as of Monday, Burnett said he feels good with where PARMC is at in terms of shipments.

St. Mary’s Hospital expects to have the ability to do in-house tests by the end of the week, said Carter. However, even with in-house testing, limited supplies would still restrict the number of tests that can be administered.

Carter said the tests would be allocated to in-patients, staff and other physicians due to the limited supply.

Burnett said in-house tests will allow PARMC to save its personal protective equipment for patients that test positive for COVID-19, not patients that test negative.

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