MOULTRIE, Ga. — Colquitt Regional Medical Center’s third floor remains closed a week after the hospital shut it down due to staffing issues linked to COVID-19.

More than 100 of the hospital’s 1,300 employees are out of work, either due to a positive COVID test or while waiting for results of a pending test, Marketing Director Emily Watson said Tuesday morning.

Colquitt Regional is officially a 99-bed hospital, but third floor accounted for 15 of those beds, Watson said after the closure was announced last week. 

As of Tuesday morning, the hospital had 87 in-patients, Watson said. Twenty-six of them are COVID-positive, and of those 26, seven are in intensive care.

“We are busy and we are full, but we are managing,” she said. No services have been discontinued.

Hospital President and CEO Jim Matney discussed the hospital’s staffing issue during a Zoom call with other community leaders Jan. 5.

Matney said the hospital is following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say a person who tests positive for COVID-19 but has no symptoms must isolate for five days, but if symptoms don’t begin during that time, he or she can return to work. That means those 80 workers are each out for a week, even if they aren’t showing symptoms — and if they do show symptoms, it can stretch to 10 days in isolation.

On Jan. 4, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp detailed how he was deploying National Guard soldiers to help at COVID-19 testing sites and hospitals. Kemp said he was sending 96 soldiers to help with 16 testing sites in seven public health districts and the state Public Health Department warehouse. He said another 102 personnel were being assigned to 11 hospitals in metro Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Gainesville, Macon, Warner Robins and Thomaston.

When asked about the deployment, Matney said Colquitt Regional doesn’t need the troops; it needs skilled health care workers.

Scarce tests

Also in last week’s call, both Matney and Tonya Bozeman, director of the Colquitt County Health Department, expressed concerns about scarce COVID tests and treatments.

“We will test until we run out of test kits,” she said. “And that could be soon, unfortunately.”

Colquitt Regional Medical Center announced Jan. 4 that it would no longer use rapid tests in its emergency room. The tests provide results in about 15 minutes.

On Tuesday, Watson said the hospital continues to hold its few rapid tests for in-patients and surgical patients. Orders for more tests have been placed, but not enough have arrived for the hospital to resume rapid testing in the emergency department.

The hospital cannot turn anyone away from the emergency department, Matney said on the Zoom call, so it will have COVID tests available for anyone who comes there to get one — but they’ll be tests that have to be sent to a separate lab to process, which will take about a day to get results. And the hospital will pass the $200 lab fee on to the patient.

Instead, Matney urged anyone who needs a COVID test to go to a site operated by Mako Medical under contract with the Southwest Public Health District, a division of the state Department of Public Health. The free tests are conducted 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday at the former Colquitt County High School, 1800 Park Ave., across from Walmart.

The hospital’s COVID hotline has been directing callers to the Mako site for weeks. In response to a request made during the Zoom call, the Colquitt County School System agreed to share the message over the Remind system it uses to communicate with employees and parents.

Some local pharmacies have rapid tests, Watson said Tuesday, but there is a cost associated with them.

Tests aren’t the only things in short supply.

Scarce treatments

Matthew Clifton, Colquitt Regional’s vice president for auxiliary services, said during the Jan. 5 call that the hospital had only 40 antibody infusions, a treatment that proved very effective against earlier variants of the coronavirus. The omicron variant is far less responsive to them anyway, Clifton said, but there is a version of the infusion that’s more effective than others; the hospital only had enough of this version to treat five patients.

Infusions are being held for the “sickest of the sick,” Watson said. 

“The only way to get an infusion is through the emergency department,” she said, “and there’s no guarantee you’ll get it even then.”

On Tuesday, Watson did not update the number of infusions available, but she repeated that they’re in short supply.

“We’ve received word we’ll receive some additional supplies next week,” she said.

Similarly, while two oral antiviral treatments have been approved by the FDA, none of them have been distributed to sites in Colquitt, Tift or Thomas counties, Clifton told community leaders Jan. 5.

“There’s supposed to be one small pharmacy in Lowndes that got them,” he said.

Matney said the federal and state governments have distributed all of those treatments in accordance with where the need was greatest at the time the decision was made, but COVID cases have continued to grow throughout the state.

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