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Piedmont Newton, Grady Memorial hospitals suspend elective surgeries amid COVID spike
Piedmont Newton

COVINGTON, Ga. — During a State of the Community address Wednesday afternoon at the Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center, Piedmont Newton Hospital CEO David Kent said the hospital staff was “shutting down elective surgeries as we speak.”

Kent said the decision to suspend such services was due to a dramatic increase of patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Unless you’ve been living under a rock,” Kent said, “you should know that we’re in the fourth wave of the COVID surge.”

Kent hoped the current wave wouldn’t be so bad, but he said his hospital’s statistics show it’s much worse locally than the first three waves. As of Wednesday, the case count was 20% higher than its previous peak a few months ago. With 103 “live beds,” Kent said the hospital’s current patient total had eclipsed 115.

Of Piedmont Newton’s patients, 60% have COVID-19, Kent said. Roughly 80% of those COVID patients are not vaccinated, but Kent said that was a decrease from only a few days ago when a staggering 95% of patients were unvaccinated.

In an effort to better utilize hospital staff and space, elective surgeries would be suspended until further notice, Kent said. As of Thursday afternoon, it remained unclear if the entire Piedmont health care system would pause such services.

As of Wednesday afternoon, only 37% of Newton County residents were fully vaccinated, according to the GDPH. However, approximately 43% of residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Both percentages are below the statewide mark of 45% fully vaccinated and 52% with at least one dose.

Within the last two weeks, the GDPH has recorded more than 1,000 total confirmed COVID cases in Newton County. Since the pandemic began more than one year ago, there have been 867 hospitalizations and more than 250 deaths in Newton County. 

Kent, who recently contracted the virus himself, recommended anyone who is able to get the vaccine and even the booster shots, if made available. He also thanked the community’s business leaders and residents for continually showing support to the hospital and its staff.

Kent’s announcement to suspend elective surgeries came on the same day Grady Health System CEO John Haupert issued a similar announcement.

“The Labor Day weekend proved to be labor-intensive at Grady,” Haupert said in a statement. “Seriously ill patients with COVID-19 and other significant health issues inundated the hospital. And because other hospitals in the area are just as full, our weekend-long total diversion status did little to slow the steady stream of ambulance-delivered patients. And remember, like any other hospital, it is our responsibility to always care for anyone who comes through our doors – we will never turn anyone away.

“Because of the strain this is putting on the health system, our patients, and our staff, we must make some changes to the way we operate. As of today, we are canceling non-essential outpatient surgery and procedures. We will regularly review patient volumes to determine when we can resume those services. We are working through this as best we can, all while watching closely for a potential post-holiday COVID-19 surge.

“We realize this is a decision that will inconvenience our patients but is necessary under these extraordinary circumstances to keep our patients and staff safe.”

Also on Wednesday, Democrat congressmen Hank Johnson, who represents part of Newton County, and David Scott of Atlanta, wrote a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp urging him to enact a statewide suspension of elective, in-patient surgeries and requesting an extension for licensing waivers for hospitals and health care workers beyond the current waivers’ Sept. 19 expiration date.

In response, Kemp urged Scott and Johnson to “request the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set a maximum rate for contract health-care workers” and “demand clear guidance from the [federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the White House regarding COVID-19 booster shots and their detailed logistical plans to assist states in this enormous undertaking.

“My top priority over the last month has been to ensure hospitals across our state have the necessary resources at their disposal to deliver care to Georgians in need,” Kemp wrote.

The governor said he has directed the state Department of Community Health to increase state-supported hospital staffing from 1,500 to 2,800 and authorized up to 2,500 Georgia National Guard troops to assist hospital systems with non-medical staffing needs.

Capitol Beat News Service contributed to this article.