VALDOSTA – If a second spike in COVID-19 cases occurs like health experts have predicted, South Georgia Medical Center feels ready for it.

"Within an hour, we can have 96 beds ready. It's that fast," said Dr. Sid Staton, SGMC chief of staff.

The Valdosta and Lowndes County Hospital Authority returned to the hospital boardroom for its monthly meeting. The big topic of discussion was the hospital's coronavirus response and how to prepare if cases spike again.

Unlike some other hospitals across the nation running out of supplies, Ronnie Dean, SGMC chief executive officer, said he was proud to report throughout the pandemic, the hospital exhausted its supply of personal protective equipment but buying 7,500 reusable gowns helped keep staff protected.

Dr. Gregory Beale said he is thankful SGMC was ahead of the curve in terms of creating guidelines for the hospital. He said tough decisions had to be made when SGMC responded to the pandemic coming to the local area.

"We were flying by the seat of our pants," he joked.

Beale, a pulmonologist, was honored as the monthly Hospital Hero for his leadership during the coordination of SGMC's COVID-19 response during the past two months.

Randy Smith, SGMC chief nursing officer, said the past two months have allowed for a "culture of higher reliability and safety" in case a second wave of coronavirus hits locally.

Dr. Brian Dawson, chief medical officer, reported the mortality rate for COVID-19 patients at SGMC was 2.6%, a full percentage lower than the state's 3.6% rate. He said as of 8 a.m. Wednesday, SGMC was treating 10 patients with one of those on a ventilator. Fourteen SGMC patients have died due to the coronavirus and 60 had been discharged as of 12:30 p.m. Friday, according to the SGMC COVID-19 daily report. 

Dawson said he was encouraged to see coronavirus patient decreases even as elective surgeries have restarted and more people have been inside the hospital, he said.

In his CEO report, Dean echoed Dawson saying non-COVID-19 patient volumes were increasing and revenue was starting to rebound as well. The return of patients for elective surgeries was welcome but Dean noted staying away from the hospital posed a danger for some patients.

"The problem is that some of these people should have come in days earlier," he said, adding some stroke patients have been affected by seeking delayed treatments.

Dean said while the hospital instituted a hard flexing model for employees, furloughs and layoffs have not been necessary. He added the hospital is still hiring and currently has about 100 openings.

In his chairman's report, Sam Allen requested the authority establish a "compliance committee" and wanted input from members about how it will work and who is interested serving on it. Shirley Garland will head the committee, Allen said.

"It's something we need and something we should have had a long time ago," he said.

Members also approved $6.9 million from the finance committee report to cover indigent care and bad debt.

After going into executive session, three medical executive committee reports from the Berrien and Lanier SGMC campuses were approved in addition to the approval of a quality improvement report and a patient safety improvement report, said Johnny Ball, SGMC vice president of marketing and public affairs.

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