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VALDOSTA — Patients at South Georgia Medical Center not being treated for COVID-19 will be able to have one visitor starting Sept. 28.

During the Wednesday morning meeting of the Hospital Authority of Valdosta and Lowndes County, Ronnie Dean, SGMC chief executive officer, announced that one visitor will soon be allowed for non-COVID-19 hospital patients.

The hospital stopped visitation earlier this year as a safety measure against COVID-19 spread, and although face-to-face visitations have not been happening, Dean said virtual visitations have been used.

“We want to create some kind of technological link between families and the patient,” he said.

Being able to communicate with a loved one, even if only via video call or phone, was important for both the patient and the family, he said.

Allowing visitors back in the hospital Sept. 28 stems from positive developments in SGMC's fight against the virus, specifically a massive decrease in COVID-19 patients being treated in the hospital during the past three weeks, hospital officials said.

“I’m pleased to report that our inpatient COVID-19 patients are down from a high of 77; I believe I reported about somewhere around the first or second week of August,” Dean said. “We’re down to 17 patients (Wednesday) in house.” 

Not only have COVID-19 patient volumes drastically lowered, but the rate of positive COVID-19 tests has decreased, according to state health reports for Lowndes County.

Dean said the rate of the past couple days revealed 7% positive which was a significant shift from the 26% positive rate a couple weeks ago.

COVID-19 testing at the SGMC Smith Northview location has also seen lower numbers, dropping to 130 people tested on average per day after an average as high as 300 on some days earlier in the year, Dean said.

“So I think we can say we’ve got this wave behind us but I would also say we’ve been here before,” Dean said. 

Despite his optimism, SGMC's CEO expressed concern about flu season compounding with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are on high alert ... and we are readying ourselves in case of a second wave,” Dean said.

In an effort to fight the upcoming flu season, Dr. Brian Dawson, SGMC chief medical officer, echoed Dean's thoughts and encouraged everyone to get a flu shot.

“We do know the flu vaccine decreases the severity of flu, and we just don’t know what we’re going to be dealing with if somebody comes in and they have a combination of flu and COVID-19,” Dawson said. “Certainly those patients will be very ill.” 

Dawson told authority members that SGMC has been contacted to possibly be a mass vaccination site for COVID-19 whenever a vaccine is completed and distributed. He said the hospital has begun the process and will find out more in the future.

The authority meeting included three elections for the hospital authority. With SGMC's new fiscal year starting Oct. 1, board members held elections for the officer positions of chairman, vice chairman and treasurer.

All three positions saw the sitting officer reelected without opposition. Johnny Langdale retook his treasurer seat; Dr. John Roan retained his position as vice chairman; and Sam Allen will serve again as board chairman.

The positions are year-long terms throughout the SGMC fiscal year, and Allen encouraged anyone who wanted to run for officer positions not to hesitate.

 “Just want to let you know that these positions are not life appointments,” Allen said. “So if anyone of you ever wake up one morning and you want to be chairman, just pick up the phone and call me, and I will transfer powers easily.”

Finally, authority members went into executive session from 8:40-10:25 a.m. No votes were taken during the closed session, but members approved recommendations from the medical executive committees from the main campus, Berrien campus and Lanier campus.

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