Dear Editor: Over the past several weeks, Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center — like many hospitals across the state and most of the country — has seen an increase in coronavirus (COVID-19) positive patients as well as an increase in overall patient volumes for reasons other than COVID-19.

Recently, there have been reports about our hospital’s capacity and our ability to provide critical care to the citizens in our region, as designated by the Georgia Emergency Management Association (GEMA). I’m writing today to address some of the questions and concerns our community has had and to assure our community that like all hospitals and health systems, our patient volumes fluctuate regularly, but we continue to meet the healthcare needs of our patients for everything from emergent to ongoing medical care.

Throughout the pandemic, Piedmont Athens has accepted transfers of patients from within its GEMA region – and also from outside of it – and will continue to do so as capacity warrants. Many of the patients that we accept do not require intensive care unit (ICU) beds, thanks to the response and hard work of our team at the local and system level. Advances in clinical protocols have improved our ability to treat patients with this truly novel disease — it did not exist nine months ago but we are learning all the time — and to help them recover. As part of our efforts, we have created additional bed capacity to handle both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. We are consistently planning for ways to manage capacity — locally and across our system — during this pandemic and otherwise. These fluctuations aren’t new to our team, and we are well-equipped to handle this increase by managing capacity on a daily basis.

With these fluctuations also comes diversion notifications – something that’s also been recently reported. 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. However, diversion has no impact on our hospital’s ability to care for our patients, whether they arrive on an emergency or elective basis. Yes, diversion may mean our hospital is very full, but rest assured that we continue to have capacity to treat the patients who come to us, whether it is for COVID-19 or any of the other myriad conditions we treat.

Fortunately, we also benefit from the size and integration of the Piedmont Healthcare system as a whole, which allows for us to share resources and provide support to each other when there’s an increased demand for care, like we’re experiencing in our region at this time. One recent example of this is the opening of the Marcus Tower at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital and the COVID Expansion Unit (CEU), which our system has created in conjunction with the state and is based in the old Piedmont Atlanta space. The creation of the CEU, which will have capacity for up to 100 patients, will alleviate pressure on us to treat patients outside of our region so that we can concentrate on caring for patients within our 17-county region.

Throughout the COVID pandemic, we’ve remained in constant communication with system leaders, infectious disease physicians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Georgia Department of Public Health to ensure that we were following the best practices, processes, and procedures, and adhering to CDC guidelines. Furthermore, we are in constant communication with St. Mary’s Hospital regarding issues of capacity and other topics.

We need your help in stopping the transmission of this disease so we all can be safer. Importantly, we urge everyone to continue keep themselves and loved ones safe by practicing the 3 W’s – wear a mask; wash your hands; watch your distance.

We’re so thankful for the incredible team at Piedmont Athens Regional — your hard work and dedication to keeping our community safe does not go unnoticed and we appreciate you. Additionally, everyone at Piedmont Athens Regional appreciates the trust our community has placed in us during this extraordinary time. Thank you for your support, stay safe and wear a mask!

Sincerely,

Michael Burnett

CEO, Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center

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