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Piedmont Rockdale Hospital’s Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

By Geoffrey P. Cole, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for Piedmont Rockdale Hospital

Just over two months ago, Piedmont Rockdale Hospital employees joined the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19. The first two positive COVID-19 patients were identified and treated at Rockdale on Friday, March 13. This would begin a series of unprecedented changes to our hospital and the Piedmont organization as a whole.

As we watched the novel coronavirus, SARS Cov-2, spread through Wuhan, China, Bergamo, Italy, and Albany, Georgia, Piedmont Rockdale formed collaborative teams, and with the help of the Piedmont system’s COVID-19 Command Center, monitored personal protective equipment (PPE) use, secured additional life-saving equipment such as ventilators, identified areas within the facility to build additional critical care areas, and conducted mock drills to ensure our doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and all other support staff felt confident in how to care for patients with COVID-19.

To reduce potential exposure, we made the difficult decision to limit hospital visitation, finally halting all visitation as we continued to focus on creating a safe environment for our patients and our staff.

We also cancelled all elective procedures, only performing emergency and cancer-related surgeries, and redeployed employees from those departments to assist with patient care in the ICU, on the medical/surgical units, and even as relief and support for environmental services and dietary staff. We pulled together as we prepared for an anticipated surge in COVID-19 patients.

As we grew closer to the projected peak date for Georgia of April 24, as indicated by a couple of respected outside models, Piedmont Rockdale had already created physical space to place additional ventilated patients, had secured an appropriate amount of PPE to keep our staff safe in the event of a patient surge, had enlisted physicians, such as anesthesia doctors, to assist in the ICU to closely monitor ventilated and critical care patients, and now had the capability to analyze COVID-19 lab tests in-house radically shortening the time it took for doctors to receive lab results and create appropriate care plans. Should there be a surge of patients, we knew we could take care of them and do it well.

Although we did not know it at the time, Piedmont Rockdale’s peak of COVID-19 positive inpatients was on March 28, the majority of whom were being treated on a designated unit within the hospital and did not require ICU or ventilator care.

Today, we have officially surpassed the anticipated surge date, which was eventually moved to May 4, and instead, we are celebrating those who have successfully battled this virus and are going home. We have created new processes to ensure we are carefully screening for COVID-19 as we begin to reopen essential services. We are open and you will be safe coming here for care.

We appreciate the support the community has shown to us. The outpouring of love and generosity through donations of food, masks, cards with words of encouragement, prayers, and so much more is greatly appreciated. Your understanding and patience of the visitor restrictions, the postponement of certain services, and in staying home and social distancing to help mitigate the spread of this disease has made a difference, and we thank you.

There were times, especially at the beginning of this crisis, when there was a lot of fear, and just because we work in a hospital does not mean we are immune to fear. The fear of this disease, the fear of the unknown, and the fear of so much change as we asked employees across the organization to take on new roles was all very real. However, as often happens in times of crisis, our staff supported and encouraged on one another. We continue to witness incredible teamwork and cooperation between people and departments as we care for our patients.

Now, we face new challenges in our commitment to provide care to this community. Our hospital has seen a steep decline in the number of patients coming to the Emergency Department with chest pain, heart attack symptoms, stroke symptoms, and other critical illnesses because of fear of COVID-19. This is alarming because these are medical emergencies and need immediate treatment. Left untreated, these issues can lead to permanent disability or even death.

Just as we helped one another within our organization in overcoming our fears, we are here and we are ready to help you overcome yours. We have put into place measures to screen for COVID-19. Patients that come to the Emergency Department with symptoms associated with COVID-19 are immediately escorted to isolation rooms in the department, away from other patients. The staff uses the recommended CDC precautions to ensure potential COVID-19 patients do not come into contact with other patients. Throughout the hospital, we continue to practice social distancing, and all employees are wearing masks when in public spaces or when they cannot be six feet apart.

I personally appreciate the trust this community has placed in Piedmont Rockdale during this extraordinary time. It is now time to move forward in this new world where we socialize appropriately, get the care we need, and take care of each other as best we can.

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