SNOW HILL – Firsthand accounts of the many impacts of COVID-19 highlighted Atlantic General Hospital’s annual presentation to county officials this week.
On Tuesday, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) representatives met with the Worcester County Commissioners to share the hospital’s usual annual report. While prior reports consisted of statistics and strategic planning, this year’s primarily focused on the ongoing pandemic.
“As you can imagine it’s been very taxing for all the staff,” said Dr. Sally Dowling, vice president of medical affairs for AGH. “Without your support this year, it would have been even more challenging.”
Dowling talked about the physical changes the hospital had made to ensure it could care for the community, including the addition of ICU space to create a COVID-19 ward and a partnership with the Berlin Nursing Home to make an overflow area.
“We have not yet had to use that,” Dowling said.
She said to date the hospital had treated 373 COVID-19 patients. Now that the vaccine is available, AGH is working to provide it to hospital staff as well as community members. Dowling said 80% of AGH’s direct patient care staff had received both doses of the vaccine. As far as all associates, between 65% and 70% of them have received both doses.
“We had the first community vaccination clinic in the state where we vaccinated 726 patients,” Dowling said. “Those patients just received their second dose this past Saturday very successfully. As of this week we have administered over 4,000 doses of the vaccine …”
Nurse Nettie Widgeon told the commissioners the past year had been hard on hospital staff.
“It’s been stressful emotionally for our staff but we’ve had some really great points also,” she said. “The great points come from our hospital adjusting so quickly to the demand of what was happening.”
She talked about the countless adjustments made to the hospital to be able to treat COVID patients better. She also addressed the impact the pandemic had on regular hospital patients. She recalled treating a woman with a broken arm who she thought was trembling with pain. The woman was in fact terrified of getting COVID while she was treated.
“She was scared of me,” Widgeon said. “She was scared to be in my ER and it’s such a strange feeling for me to have a patient being scared to be with us because normally we’re the safe place.”
AGH President and CEO Michael Franklin said that while staff continued to fight COVID, the hospital was still planning long-term. An emerging strategic plan is in the works and there’s a strong focus on health equity, he said.
“It’s not just about having the right physicians and having enough resources available,” he said. “We have to figure out how to distribute those resources throughout a rural community, a geographically spread out community. We’ve got to do a better job with health equity.”
He said the hospital’s finances had improved in the past year.
“On an operating basis we improved by almost $3 million,” he said. “It was very strange because our admissions went down significantly. Our patient days went up. People are staying in the hospital a lot longer. That’s because when people came in with COVID some stayed for longer than a month. Some stayed for almost two months before we were able to discharge them.”
Franklin said AGH provided $15 million in community impact through things like free care and vaccine clinics. As far as the COVID vaccines, he said Worcester County was doing well getting its residents vaccinated, as over 17% had now been vaccinated with their first dose.
“We fight on a weekly basis to get our allotment of vaccine supply so that we’re able to continue to distribute it throughout the community,” he said.