Northeast Georgia Health System leaders are fighting to get ahead of the spread of COVID-19.
Mobile units — which will allow the hospital system to treat additional patients and adapt to changing needs — are operational at both Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton and Gainesville.
The two units, which were provided by the Georgia Department of Public Health, both have 13 spaces for patients. (That’s in addition to the 84 emergency beds and 15 hall spaces at NGMC Gainesville, and 21 beds and 10-12 hallway spaces at NGMC Braselton.)
Dr. Mohak Dave’, chief of emergency medicine, said the units will allow the hospital to adapt to whatever circumstances come up in the future.
“In emergency medicine, our job is to be prepared. We can’t predict the future, but we have to be prepared,” he said in a press conference held last week.
The negative-pressure units will allow the hospital to cohort patients with respiratory-type symptoms, to avoid exposure to patients, staff and the community. Higher-acuity patients will still continue to be triaged and receive the level of care needed, Dave’ said.
The additional mobile units will allow the hospital additional capacity, he added.
“As we have seen in a pandemic situation, you need capacity,” said Dr. Dave'. “You have to be able to adapt to what the capacity needs are at the time.”
Dr. Shravan Kethireddy, medical director of critical care services, noted the health system has been proactive and aggressive in its fight against the spread of COVID-19. He cited the situation in Italy, which has seen exponential growth in its number of cases and an overwhelmed healthcare system.
“Their exponential growth was unprecedented,” said Dr. Kethireddy. “And even though (Italy was) prepared, it quickly overwhelmed the healthcare system …. It is with that concern that we’ve acted with the level of urgency and need that you see here.”
Area healthcare workers are taking on a variety of non-traditional roles as the normal rhythm is disrupted at NGHS.
“I’ve found that the medical staff has been willing to step up and participate in this response in ways that many of us haven’t necessarily done before,” said chief of staff Dr. Cliff Hastings.
Additionally, Dr. Dave’ recognized first responders and urgent care staff members who are also part of the effort.
“They’re fighting this fight with us as well,” said Dr. Dave'.
But the fight against the spread of COVID-19 isn’t just the responsibility of the area healthcare system and first responders. It’s also the responsibility of the community.
During the press conference, several NGHS staff members cited the critical need for community members to adhere to the CDC guidelines on social distancing, quarantining and hand-washing.
Sean Couch, director of public relations and marketing, urged those with symptoms to isolate and monitor those symptoms at home. Couch noted that recommendation is different than what is most often recommended for people who are sick.
“But this is a different situation,” said Couch.
If someone feels they need medical attention, they’re asked to call a doctor or urgent care first to get advice on how to proceed.
“This is our window of time. We have an opportunity here to collectively come together as a community, as a state, as a nation to really follow these directions for care and social isolation,” said Couch. “And if we can achieve that together, we can help prevent the spread and hopefully prevent us moving to a case where our health systems are overwhelmed. If we move to that point, unfortunately, our caregivers are going to be faced with making some very difficult decisions about who receives care. None of us want to get to that point.”
For up-to-date information from NGHS on its COVID-19 response, visit nghs.com/covid-19.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” -Fred Rogers
By Alex Buffington
The community is experiencing a monumental event, one that will forever be ingrained in memories.
Over the past couple of weeks, the spreading Coronavirus has changed people’s daily lives across the country. Schools are closed throughout the state; residents are encouraged to stay home as much as possible; local governments have scaled back; and shoppers have flocked to supermarkets to stock up on necessities.
The uncertain situation has created fear across the country — from concerns over the economic impact to overstretching the nation’s healthcare resources.
But the virus crisis has also brought out something else: The helpers.
The community has stepped up over the past couple of weeks to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some are simply checking on their elderly neighbors or family members, running errands for them so they don't have to go out. Others have given blood or volunteered to sew masks for area hospitals.
Local school staff are delivering hundreds of meals to students across the area.
And area nonprofits are spending countless hours working to get food into the hands of community members in need.
One of those groups, iServe Ministries, has been distributing thousands of pounds of food each week through its mobile food pantries in Commerce, Pendergrass and Athens.
iServe’s mobile food pantry is open on the second Saturday of the month in the parking lot of the Lanier Technical College in Commerce and on the third Tuesday of the month in the parking lot at Pendergrass Flea Market.
Jeff and Sherry Grant started the 501(c)3 in 2011 and implemented the mobile food bank in 2013.
“We just really felt like we needed to be in our community, helping more,” said S. Grant.
The group gives away roughly 30,000 pounds of food during its distribution days and can feed up to 500 families, providing 10-12 days-worth of food. iServe gave away over 1.2 million pounds of food in Northeast Georgia in 2019.
Need grows during COVID-19 spread
Given the increasing concern over the spread of Coronavirus, the group is taking some extra precautions, implementing a drive-thru model, to help prevent unnecessary close contact during the mobile food bank.
“There were approximately 75 volunteers who helped (during the March 17 food distribution) load vehicles in a drive-thru arrangement where recipients were not allowed out of their car to maintain distance between individuals wherever possible,” said Sam Wilson, president of the Rotary Club of Braselton. The Rotary Club sent several volunteers to help distribute food during the Pendergrass event on March 17.
iServe normally serves around 250-300 families during its weekly distribution events in Pendergrass and Commerce. But during the most recent mobile food pantry events, they served 400 families in need.
J. Grant expects that number to continue to increase as more people lose their jobs due to the pandemic.
“The demand is growing super-fast,” he said.
Helping local students
iServe has also partnered with the Jackson County School System and Jackson County Family Connection to get a plan in place for area students. For years, iServe has held a Bags of Love program within the schools, providing a backpack filled with food to feed a family over the weekend.
But with schools now closed, iServe wanted to help make sure those families also had meals available Mondays-Fridays. iServe volunteers and JCSS staff members partnered up on March 18 to deliver food to 200 families in need across Jackson County to make sure they have breakfast, lunch and some extra food for the week.
“With school being closed for a month and these children not receiving free breakfast and lunch every day this food will really help,” said J. Grant.
Community support ‘awesome’
J. Grant said the community support and outpouring have been substantial.
“The community support is big. The outpouring has been awesome,” said J. Grant, noting the support the group has received from area churches and businesses. “…It’s neat to see the community rally together to help their neighbors.”
With the increasing need expected in the community due to the spread of COVID-19, iServe’s costs are “going to go up drastically,” said J. Grant.
If you’d like to help iServe’s mission, you can donate online at iserveministries.org.
There are various other groups and individuals in the area who are trying to help the community.
Northeast Georgia Health System recently noted the "generous offers" from the community to sew masks for its patients and staff.
"We are overjoyed by the community’s generous offers to sew masks to protect our patients and healthcare workers," NGHS wrote on Facebook. "Teams are currently working with a select group to produce a test run of masks. Once the quality/safety of this test run is complete, we hope to share more details about how you can help."
That post has received numerous comments from area residents indicating their willingness to donate a sewing machine or their time to help the effort.
Meanwhile, Celebration Church has started an initiative to help local small businesses. The program, Celebration Cares, highlights local small businesses and their special offerings. Those videos can be found on the church’s Facebook page.
One Jefferson businessman is taking action to help students have access to the internet so they can participate in area distance learning activities while local schools are closed for the virus.
Amin Maghani, owner of Tabo’s Foodmart in Jefferson, opened an empty building next to his Lee St. location so that students who don’t have internet at home could have a place to go and study.
Amin set up several tables, six feet apart, in the building so that families could all sit at one table to work. He is also providing a cooler of drinks for the kids to have access to as they work.
If you have a story you'd like to share of efforts to help during the coronavirus pandemic, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Helping local businesses adjust to the impacts of the COVID crisis was the main topic of conversation during last week's Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce's board of directors meeting. The meeting was held via video conference due to the virus.
Supporting local small businesses was highlighted in the discussion as many business had closed or adopted reduced hours in the last week.
"Small businesses need people to buy local right now," said board member Chad Bingham. "Small businesses are really in trouble."
The chamber is watching various legislative actions that could provide some relief to businesses impacted by the economic downturn that has come out of the virus crisis.
An online survey has also been launched for chamber members to record how the virus is affecting their businesses. The organization plans to use its social media platforms to share information with members during the crisis.
The chamber also hosted a conference call last week of around 30 large business and industry leaders across Jackson County to discuss the impact the virus was having on their operations and to share information, said chamber director of economic development John Scott.
"It's unchartered territory for everybody," he said.
Scott said the calls would probably be held weekly during the crisis.
Despite concerns about the virus, Scott reported that the county was following two large industrial projects.
One is a chicken rendering plant that would make dog food, he said. The unnamed company had hired a PR firm to help with that effort, anticipating some local push-back.
Details about the second project were not released.
The board also heard a report about if and how the chamber could host a candidate forum for the upcoming May elections. Given the restrictions on large gatherings, the board discussed hosting an online forum with the candidates instead.
In other news, the chamber has canceled some of its upcoming events, such as the April business breakfast and Jackson County Day at the Capitol, but no decision has been made yet on whether or not to reschedule the Jackson County Derby scheduled for April 23.
The cancellations of events could have an impact on the chamber's own finances, said Jim Shaw, president and CEO of the chamber. Shaw said the chamber is in good financial shape for now, but he was starting to watch the cash flow as the economy hits many of its members.
Braselton leaders have made additional changes to the town’s regular operations amid the continued threat of COVID-19.
All town buildings are currently closed to the public.
The drive-thru at the planning and utility building is open and employees are on hand to provide services for every department at that location.
Those needing information or assistance can visit the town’s website at Braselton.net, call the main line at 706-654-3915 or email a request/concern to town manager Jennifer Scott Town at email@example.com.
The town also shared the following updates and reminders for Braselton residents:
The town is requesting customers pay utility bills online or at the drive-thru window or drop box.
Municipal Court fines can be paid online. All courts have been cancelled and rescheduled.
The Braselton Police Department is handling non-priority calls by phone (incidents that only require a report and/or where there is no crime scene or evidence to be collected). “If they need to come to your home or business on a non-priority call, they ask that you step outside to speak to them. We want to keep our police officers healthy and available to serve you and our community,” town leaders state.
There will be no public gatherings on any town property, including the parks and Town Green. The playground at Braselton Park is closed.
“However, we encourage individuals or families to use sidewalks, the Life Path or the Riverwalk for walking or other exercise but please practice social distancing and stay at least six feet from other persons,” town leaders state.
Following Governor Brian Kemp’s announcement March 23 to close bars and nightclubs, the town is also encouraging non-essential businesses to close immediately.
“Restaurants and other eating and dining establishments where food is served are encouraged to cease offering dine-in services but continue preparing and offering food to customers via delivery, drive-through or take-out services,” town leaders state. “Patrons, employees and contractors of all establishments should maintain a minimum of at least six feet of personal distance between themselves.”
If a restaurant is licensed to sell beer and wine for on-premises consumption, such restaurant, until further notice, shall be authorized to sell unopened bottles or cans of beer or wine for take-out consumption off-premises, the town added.
A guide to the definition of essential workforce and businesses can be found at https://gacities.com/GeorgiaCitiesSite/media/PDF/Guidance-on-the-Essential-Critical-Infrastructure-Workforce.pdf.
Establishments such as grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses which remain open during the emergency should post signage on entrance doors informing consumers to maintain at least six feet of personal distance between themselves and others, town leaders state.
Updates will be posted at Braselton.net and Facebook.com/BraseltonGA.
The town also shared several links that may be helpful to residents:
•Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton updates — https://www.nghs.com/news/
•Georgia Department of Public Health — https://dph.georgia.gov/
•Center for Disease Control — https://www.cdc.gov/
•World Health Organization — https://www.who.int/
Shannon Sell is the new Mayor of Hoschton.
Sell was sworn into his position during a special called meeting March 23. Town leaders limited attendance into the meeting to 10 people, due to the continued Coronavirus threat and advice to practice “social distancing.”
The mayoral seat was vacated by Theresa Kenerly, who resigned her post in December. Kenerly came under fire in May following racial comments made during the search for a new city administrator. She would have faced a recall election had she not resigned.
Sell was set to face Hope Weeks in a special election for the mayoral seat, but Weeks withdrew her candidacy.
Weeks, a former city council member, had to resign her council post when she qualified to run for mayor. An election to fill Weeks’ vacated council seat will be held May 19. Tracy Carswell and Jared Thompson are vying for that city council post.
Additionally, Hoschton voters will cast their ballots May 19 in a race to fill the vacated council seat of Jim Cleveland, who also resigned in December. Cleveland also came under fire for racial comments and also faced a recall election. James Lawson and Raphael Mayberry are vying for that vacant city council seat.