Phoebe health system expected to get more temporary staff members for COVID-19 response

Phoebe health system expected to get more temporary staff members for COVID-19 response

ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Phoebe hospitals are expected to get more temporary staff members next week.

Phoebe Putney Health System (PPHS) has reported seeing more COVID-19 patients again, which is creating some concern about staffing.

“In March and April, it was Albany, Georgia and New York City,” Scott Steiner, CEO of PPHS, said of Albany being one of few U.S. hotspots early on in the pandemic.

Since then though, the focus and the extra staff have shifted to other parts of the country that are in need.

“Staff that we were able to pull into southwest Georgia in March and April and part of May have opportunities to be pulled into many other places,” Steiner said.

Steiner said many workers that were brought in through partnerships with the state of Georgia and Gov. Brian Kemp’s office have since gone somewhere else because Albany’s numbers had gotten lower.

"We were trying to be good stewards of the state dollars because it's taxpayer dollars, and so we began to let some of that temporary staff go," he said.

At one point in June, Phoebe had 20-something COVID-19 patients in its hospitals.

This month though, Steiner said that Phoebe hospitals have seen a steady increase in COVID-19 patients.

As of July 20, they had more than 70.

Steiner said that is much lower than the more than 170 COVID-19 patients that were in the hospital in Albany at one time earlier this year.

In the past few weeks, Phoebe has also seen more patients who don’t have the virus but still need critical care. That group, Steiner pointed out, likely makes up around 70 percent of Phoebe’s full ICU beds.

"We have heart attacks and strokes," he explained. "Those people have put care off for many months, and in some instances, they're in worse condition."

Steiner described how many nurses are needed to staff one ICU bed for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I need 4.2 critical care nurses, so if we wanted to add 10 new ICU beds, I need 42 (critical care) nurses to do that. That’s pretty hard to do,” he said.

Right now, Steiner said Phoebe is “well covered” when it comes to having enough staffing for coronavirus patients, but if cases continue to surge, he said they will need more staff.

He said they have used some of Phoebe's current internal contracts to get some extra help.

Steiner said the state will help send more than 30 temporary staff members next week to expand capacity as well.

"I sure wish there was, you know, a couple hundred nurses who lived in southwest Georgia that just didn't have anything to do and were waiting for a call, and that just doesn't exist here," Steiner said. "It doesn't exist anywhere."

Steiner said that compared to the beginning of the pandemic, Phoebe is seeing fewer COVID-19 patients who need critical care immediately upon their admission to the hospital.

He also said the average age of patients being admitted with COVID-19 has lowered from the 60s age range back in March and April. Now, the average age of patients being admitted with COVID-19 is early 50s.

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