Athens hospitals confirmed Thursday that they did divert patients on Wednesday. In separate statements, St. Mary’s Hospital and Piedmont Athens Hospital both gave more information on the nature of the diversions and said that operations are now back to normal.
“Yesterday, St. Mary’s experienced higher than anticipated volumes and briefly was on diversion,” St. Mary’s Healthcare Public Relations Manager Mark Ralston told the Athens Banner-Herald on Thursday. “By working with our sister facilities and our medical staff, we were able to facilitate safe and appropriate discharges and return quickly to normal operations. Throughout the diversion period, we continued to accept patients into our Emergency Department and triaged them appropriately.”
Ralston said that Wednesday’s diversion was not just because of rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, but also from high volumes from a number of causes.” St. Mary’s is no longer on diversion and is fully open to anyone who needs care, he said.
Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center communications specialist Sydney Walker told Flagpole that most patients at the hospital are not being treated for COVID-19, and they merely experienced a high volume of patients on Wednesday.
“The vast majority of patients in Piedmont Athens Regional are not being treated for COVID-19,” she said. “We continue to treat patients for both routine and emergent visits, major surgeries, and labor and delivery. These patients, combined with the volume of COVID patients, are populating our hospital.
“As is the case across the state, we have seen an increase in COVID patients but our resources and staffing are stable,” she said.
Walker further explained that even in normal operational conditions, bed availability often fluctuates in the hospital.
“Diversion is a situation that arises when Emergency Department (ED) and inpatient beds fill up and EMS providers are instructed to take patients requiring a bed elsewhere, a frequent occurrence for hospitals and one that transpired this week,” she explained. “However, we continue to treat patients on an outpatient basis at our ED.”
Walker also told Flagpole that the hospital has adapted to COVID-19 being around for a while, and urged everyone to stay safe and not be afraid to seek out emergency care at the hospital in any situation, but especially in a life-threatening situation such as a stroke or heart attack.
“It’s clear that COVID-19 is part of our collective day-to-day reality, and we have incorporated the treatment of these patients into our ongoing approach, while also meeting the healthcare needs of our much larger patient base,” she wrote. “Our patients trust Piedmont for everything from emergent to ongoing medical care. We typically don’t release information on the number of patients on any given day for any specific treatment, like heart, cancer or stroke patients. We’re using that same standard for COVID-19, and we trust that the relevant state health and emergency management agencies are the best source for ongoing information.
“Importantly, we urge everyone to continue to keep themselves and loved ones safe across COVID-19 and wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance, but equally to seek healthcare care when needed,” she added. “It’s alarming that we continue to see people in our communities unnecessarily avoiding needed health care—even emergency care, when it’s a life-threatening situation like stroke or heart attack where every minute counts.”
On Wednesday, Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Russell Edwards raised concerns about both local hospitals diverting patients at the same time.
“Typically only one hospital goes on total diversion, refusing patient transfers and ambulances by sending them to the other hospital,” he told Flagpole. “But this afternoon, both hospitals were on total diversion simultaneously, where both were forced to accept and prioritize only emergencies. This strain on the system aggravates the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Thursday, Georgia Public Broadcasting published a whistleblower report about a hospital in Macon that had to send patients over 800 miles away because of the volume of COVID-19 patients.
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