Dr. Brian Dawson Headshot

VALDOSTA — If COVID-19 patients need to be transferred to South Georgia Medical Center, the hospital will take them.

Monday, Southwell Medical in Tifton reported its ICU full and the hospital was transferring patients to Tennessee.

“The nearest ICU bed I could find when I was trying to transfer a patient out was in Chattanooga, Tenn.,” said Christopher Dorman, Southwell Medical chief executive officer, to the Tift County Hospital Authority. “Most of the hospitals in Georgia, especially the larger hospitals, are at or around diversion status. They might have one bed, but most of the ICU areas are full.” 

In Valdosta, however, SGMC reports it has not reached a similar level of saturation.

The hospital is still accepting COVID-19 patients and has a pending list of potential transfers, said Dr. Brian Dawson, SGMC chief medical officer.

"Even if someone calls us and we don't immediately have a bed available, what we do is we put them on a pending list until we can get them in assuming the patient is stable enough to hold on just a little bit in that (emergency department)," he said. "...Tifton has sent us a few (COVID-19 patients) but not that many recently."

Hovering at about 70 COVID-19 the past two weeks, the SGMC has a total bed capacity for about 96, Dawson said, and is still able to accept coronavirus patients from other health care systems.

"Our doors are open to help whoever needs help," Dawson said.

If patient numbers reach or exceed that approximate number of 96, he confirmed patients will be transferred to other hospitals around South Georgia and North Florida.

As of Thursday morning, 13 COVID-19 patients were being treated in SGMC's ICU, down from 15 Tuesday morning, the SGMC CMO said.

Coronavirus patients admitted to the hospital remain older in age, he said, but younger patients with the virus have ticked up a bit. Those younger patients generally have been “chronologically young but physiologically older," he said.

Dawson said SGMC's decision to send non-COVID-19 patients to Smith-Northview was a "godsend." The move has opened more beds in the main hospital to treat coronavirus patients.

"It's just been a real help," he said.

Despite the current high volume of COVID-19 patients, Dawson said he feels comfortable with SGMC's current handling of patients with the virus, describing SGMC's stress with COVID-19 as "five out of 10."

The comfort stems not only from additional beds but an influx of nurses. SGMC has reassigned nurses from IT and quality to help with patients in addition to hiring upward of 40 travel or contract nurses, Dawson said.

"At that time, we were worried about having enough nursing staff but now we do have an extra bit of nursing staff," he said. "So now I feel more comfortable than I did two or three weeks ago."

This story was updated at 4:00 p.m. July 30.

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