More than 50 doctors, critical-care nurses and respiratory therapists are on the ground at Northeast Georgia Health System and another 35 are due soon, perhaps as early as Monday, as the system works to prevent a shortage of health care workers amid a surge in COVID-19 patients.
The clinicians were sent here by Jackson Healthcare, an Alpharetta-based company that puts doctors and nurses in temporary positions in hospitals across the county to help deal with seasonal surges in patients or fill in for vacationing workers, R. Shane Jackson, president of the company, said Thursday.
The company also sent clinicians to help Pheobe Putney Health System in hard-hit Dougherty County in Southwest Georgia. Dougherty County has had the most deaths from the coronavirus at 119.
Jackson said most of his workers in Hall County right now are critical-care nurses.
“These are people who are able to work with these very, very sick COVID patients,” Jackson said. “COVID patients who become hospitalized are very, very sick. They are in the ICU, they are in critical-care beds and they are on these ventilators. They have a lot of complications, so you need these highly skilled nurses and doctors to deal with them.”
The first workers from Jackson Healthcare arrived last week. As many as 35 more are expected next week, with a few arriving as early as Monday.
NGHS last week said it would reach its staff capacity on Monday, but updated information on the system’s website now shows staff capacity will not be reached until May 22. The peak in new cases is not expected until early June.
The surge in cases in Hall County comes as Gov. Brian Kemp has allowed some businesses in the state to reopen as new cases statewide begin to decline. The governor’s shelter-in-place order is set to expire at midnight Thursday, and it appears that he has no plans to extend it.
According to the health system website, 153 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and about 40 percent are on a ventilator. The system reports 33 deaths at its facilities. Since the pandemic began, more the 1,300 Hall County residents have been diagnosed with the virus.
“Gainesville has had a surge in COVID patients,” Jackson said. “The advantage that Gainesville has had is it happened much later than it happened other places. To the credit of Northeast Georgia Health System, they took advantage of the time they have had over the last six weeks to prepare for this and they really brought on a lot of additional critical-care beds to be able to care for COVBID patients in case they got a surge.”
The health system formed its Coronavirus Task Force in late January.
Jackson said the nature of the pandemic has altered his business. Because it normally fills vacancies on a temporary basis, the company can work strategically with hospital, and they usually have a larger lead time.
“We’re usually talking to them about what’s happening 30, 60, 90 days out and how do we help make sure you have the staff to see the patients,” he said. “This was different. This was we need 65 critical care nurses and we need them inside a week.”
Jackson made his comments Thursday during an appearance on WDUN’s “Morning Talk with Martha Zoller.”