RIVERDALE — Hospitals that serve Clayton, Henry and Fayette counties are already overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, according to a doctor who addressed the Forest Park City Council at a March 30 special called meeting.

Dr. Melina Diaz, an infectious disease specialist at three area hospitals, spoke to council members in a conference call.

“Truly, this is an unprecedented time,” Diaz said. “We’re having many, many cases come into our hospital. All the hospitals in our neighbor towns are overwhelmed. Our main need is that we don’t have gowns and we don’t have enough nurses. We have multiple patients that need to be ruled out, we’re waiting for the tests to come back. We still have some ventilators, which is good, but we really need help to protect our personnel, our staff.”

Diaz said the city’s shelter in place order “will be absolutely important to help us to control and help the few patients that are already here that need so much care.”

As of March 30, Southern Regional stopped allowing general visitors in the main hospital and emergency department.

♦ One parent or guardian must accompany any child under 18

♦ One support person per mother is allowed in the Women’s Center

The only exception is in “end-of-life situations, which will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Director of Marketing and Communications Kimberly Golden-Benner said, “All other hospital services are open — medical beds, acute care for the elderly and women’s services such as labor and delivery—and we continue to care of all other patients in our community.” Patients confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 are “contained ... in a dedicated area.”

Golden-Benner said Southern Regional is coordinating “with local health officials, legislators and our Prime Healthcare leadership on all efforts in dealing with COVID-19” and confirmed shortages plaguing the rest of the country are being felt here, too.

“As of today, March 31, the hospital’s most critical need is isolation gowns followed by surgical masks,” she said.

Like “every other hospital in the country,” Southern Regional’s staff is forced to deal with “the nationwide shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Our front-line health care providers are practicing conservation procedures to ensure our allocation of critical supplies last as long as possible.”

While Southern Regional is “receiving regular supplies, critical items are on allocation — meaning we receive far less amounts than ordered,” Golden-Benner explained. “Southern Regional has been blessed to receive donations of items such as N95 masks and goggles from area businesses, which has supplemented specific needs.”

At Piedmont Henry Hospital, a 215-bed hospital where Diaz also works, “we have 31 cases and 16 on the vent, which is a huge burden to the hospital. Piedmont Fayette has lots of cases, close to 40, most of them intubated. Basically, the ICUs are full, completely full of COVID patients, and the floor has been completely (made into a) unit only for COVID patients, too.”

No visitors are allowed at Piedmont Henry except as follows:

Essential family members must get prior approval from the patien♦ t care team for end-of-life care, labor and delivery patients, and legal guardians of minor patients, including Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

♦ Approved visitors must pass the health/quarantine screen

♦ No visitors in any room where a patient “is presumptive positive, confirmed or a Person Under Investigation (PUI) for COVID-19”

♦ Piedmont encourages the use of electronic devices to communicate with patients who are hospitalized.

♦ Essential hospital vendors require approval and must pass the same health screening.

Piedmont is accepting cloth masks for patients who have non-COVID-19 breathing issues: “Having these donated masks available would help Piedmont save surgical/procedural masks to use on providers and clinicians instead, according to the hospital. Various patterns shared on the web are “appropriate.”

Masks for doctors require special manufacturers. If you have items to donate, e-mail PitchingIn@piedmont.org and you will be directed where to leave them.

Southern Regional “does NOT want people showing up at the hospital” and urges people making donations to call (770) 991-8000 for pickup: “We’ll go to them,” Golden-Benner said.

She added the hospital welcomes shows of support like flashing lights and waving, but interested groups must first contact (770) 991-8000 “so we know they’re coming and can coordinate groups and don’t have three groups here at the same time.” People also can send messages of support and photos of kids’ “thank you” art to srmcspirit@gmail.com.

Southern Regional Medical Center

Piedmont Henry Hospital

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