(Editor’s Note: Atlantic General Hospital and Health System issued a recap this week on its COVID-19 response while also looking forward. We thought it was worthy of sharing in its entirety.)
For more than 13 months, Atlantic General Hospital and Health System and its frontline staff have been at the forefront of COVID-19 efforts to mitigate the effects of this devastating pandemic on communities of the Eastern Shore. The organization rallied early on to give patients fighting severe COVID-19 early access to the latest treatments and therapeutics not yet being offered by larger hospitals and major academic medical centers. That same flexibility and forward thinking brought treatment for more moderate coronavirus infections to Worcester County as well as the Lower Eastern Shore’s first of many community vaccination clinics.
In April of 2020, just five weeks after the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Worcester County, Atlantic General Hospital began treating inpatients with convalescent plasma as part of a Mayo Clinic study, in partnership with the Blood Bank of Delmarva.
The trial, which included more than 35,000 patients at hospitals across the country, ultimately led to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of a refined treatment regimen of high-antibody-level convalescent plasma for hospitalized patients early in the course of their COVID-19 disease.
The infusion treatment uses the antibody-rich plasma of now healthy coronavirus survivors to help the patients fight the virus. Additional trials are still underway in the U.S. and internationally to learn more about the benefits of convalescent plasma.
Atlantic General also began providing another therapy to qualified COVID-19 patients, an antiviral called remdesivir, in early May 2020. The medication was originally developed to treat hepatitis C and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and is used to treat a wide range of viruses. Remdesivir received FDA emergency use authorization to treat COVID-19 in April 2020.
Despite the ongoing strain on supply chains for a variety of supplies and pharmaceuticals at the time, Atlantic General was able to maintain stock of the drug, which has since proven to shorten recovery time for patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and likely prevents a worsening or progression of the disease.
In early December 2020, it was announced Atlantic General Hospital would be one of the first six treatment sites in the state of Maryland to offer the monoclonal antibody therapeutic bamlanivimab to high risk patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 infection.
The therapeutic mimics immune system antibodies that block viruses. It was granted emergency use authorization by the FDA for treatment of individuals with COVID-19 before severe symptoms occur, to reduce the chances of the infection worsening and requiring hospitalization.
More recent research has shown that combining bamlanivimab with etesevimab, another monoclonal antibody therapeutic, offers significant improvement in patient outcomes. To date, Atlantic General Hospital has provided the infusion therapy to 150 outpatients to prevent a worsening of their disease.
On Jan. 16, 2021, Atlantic General held its first COVID-19 community vaccination clinic in an effort to utilize doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine remaining after staff vaccination. The event, for 735 individuals ages 75 and older, was the first community clinic in Maryland, coming just ahead of the state’s formal transition to Phase 1B.
AGH has been holding weekly clinics since that time, in addition to vaccine administration through the state of Delaware at their Atlantic General Health System (AGHS) physician practices located in Sussex County. To improve patient access, AGHS will soon offer COVID-19 vaccines at their Maryland offices as well.
In the next week or two, the small community hospital anticipates reaching the 10,000-doses-administered mark in the campaign to vaccinate residents against COVID-19. To date, more than 31% of the population of Worcester County has been fully vaccinated through combined efforts of Atlantic General Hospital, the Worcester County Health Department and local retail pharmacies. With these collaborative efforts, the percentage of Worcester County residents vaccinated has consistently been one of the top three jurisdictions in the state.
Atlantic General’s approach to community vaccination continues to evolve as they make plans to specifically target underserved areas to reach individuals who are unable to schedule an appointment at a traditional vaccine clinic, due to disability, technological barriers or lack of transportation.
“Our staff has worked tirelessly over the past year to combat surges in COVID-19 community infection rates and keep patients, family members and each other safe, while never losing sight of the individual – the patient who is scared and suffering and alone or the one who is tired but so thankful to finally be able to go home, or the distraught family member who cannot visit their sick loved one,” said Michael Franklin, president and CEO of Atlantic General Hospital. “It takes a lot of empathy and emotional energy, in addition to their expertise. They have quickly pivoted to respond to the changing face of this pandemic, and I cannot thank them enough. We still have a ways to go, and I’m proud we’re able to offer this kind of high quality, compassionate care to our community.”