By Dr. Robert Sinyard
It’s been just over two months since the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) announced the first positive case of COVID-19 in Athens-Clarke County and since the first COVID-19 patients were admitted to our hospital at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center. To say the novel coronavirus had an impact on our community and its hospitals would be an understatement. Over these past months, Piedmont Athens Regional – like many other health care facilities across the world – had to make unprecedented changes to how we operate, and I’m very proud of the work our team has done in keeping our patients and our staff members safe during this very challenging time.
From the moment we admitted our first patient, the doctors, nurses and staff at Piedmont Athens Regional united like never before to provide care and prepare for more COVID-19 patients. Though our community was just starting to see the beginning signs of the pandemic that had already started impacting other regions, we went into intense planning mode to prepare for what was to come. Our team came together, breaking down what challenges we faced and creating solutions – we did what we needed to do.
We implemented new processes, like ways to help with managing and securing necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. Our team worked around the clock to transform some of our inpatient units into a dedicated space for an influx of COVID-19-positive patients, some of whom require a higher level of care. And all the while, we remained in constant communication with our healthcare system’s COVID-19 incident command center and the Georgia DPH to ensure we were following all best practices, processes and procedures while adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines.
As our community is already aware, some of those new processes required us to prohibit visitation and cancel elective procedures, allowing for us to conserve our PPE and other important resources and focus on our hospital’s response to COVID-19 as well as the safety of our patients and team. The new processes also allowed for us to deploy staff to other departments in need. Some of these employees volunteered to serve in the ICU or other medical-surgical units while others supported areas like our dietary department or environmental services. Everyone pitched in where they were needed.
Now more recently, we’ve seen the number of COVID-19 positive patients at the hospital decline. We’ve started to re-open services for essential and time-sensitive procedures, creating more new processes to ensure that everyone remains safe. For instance, patients scheduled for surgical and other procedures are tested for COVID-19 in the days leading up to this procedure. Patients, visitors and staff entering our facilities have to pass a health screening and are required to wear a mask or face covering.
Piedmont Athens Regional as a team wants to not only continue providing high-quality, patient-centered care to our community – something we’ve done for more than 100 years – but also to assure our patients and the members of the community that their safety is and has always been our priority.
We understand there’s a lot of uncertainty about the safety of any institution right now, but the hospital is a safe place to be especially if you’re ill or injured. Every hospital in the nation has seen a sharp decline in the number of patients coming to the emergency room (ER) with chest pain, heart attack symptoms, stroke symptoms and other critical illnesses for fear of COVID-19. This decline is alarming and troubling. These are medical emergencies that need immediate treatment, and we want everyone to know that it’s safe to seek care. If left untreated, these and other medical issues can cause serious health complications or even lead to death.
In addition to the safety measures mentioned earlier, we’ve put measures in place specifically in our ER to help screen for COVID-19. Patients who come to us with symptoms associated with COVID-19 are immediately led to isolation rooms. They’re not in the waiting room and they’re away from other patients. If a patient is admitted to our hospital for COVID-19 treatment, we place them in a unit dedicated to COVID-19 treatment where no other patients are cared for and where ventilation systems are installed that don’t allow for the exchange of air with other areas in our hospital. All of this to show how every step we take is for your safety.
As a long-time Athens resident, I appreciate the trust that the community has placed in Piedmont Athens Regional during this time. The outstanding support you all have shown us – from individuals, local businesses and other organizations in Athens-Clarke County and beyond – has been one of the most amazing things to witness, and we’re very grateful for everything you all have done for our hospital. This has been such a challenging and difficult time for all of us, but watching our community come together to care for each other and support healthcare workers on the frontlines has been tremendous.
Thank you for joining us as we move forward and continue to make a positive difference in every life we touch.
Dr. Robert Sinyard is chief medical officer at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center