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Coronavirus Overwhelms Georgia Hospital: Patients Flood In As Staff Weathers Exposure

It makes sense that some of America's biggest cities — crowded port regions closely tied to the wider world — are among those hit hardest by the coronavirus.

But smaller, landlocked areas are certainly no exception. In Albany, Ga., a small inland city of 73,000, the biggest hospital is overwhelmed. The Phoebe Putney Health System has registered 685 confirmed cases and 33 deaths related to the coronavirus.

"By no means do we feel like are we seeing it slowing," Scott Steiner, the president and chief executive officer of the Phoebe Putney Health System, said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition on Wednesday. "I can't say we've bent the curve yet."

Steiner says the hospital has managed to expand its capacity to accommodate what's become a daily influx of coronavirus patients. But what's needed most, he says, are the medical professionals working on the front lines of the crisis.

Here's more of what Steiner had to say:

On the surge of Covid-19 patients at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

We do have a bed for every patient ...We've opened our fourth Covid-only ICU, which is not normally an ICU ...We have five other medical floors that are all Covid-only patients ... But we've also had to transfer out a number of patients to other hospitals.

On how the hospital staff is holding up

I've been saying we got 4,500 members of the Phoebe family and I've been calling them warriors because they are just that.

They go in, they run to the screams, they run into the fire, and they are doing exceptionally well. Are they tired, are they weary? Would they all like to go back to whatever normal was before? Absolutely. But every patient is being cared for with incredible compassion.

On how staff are staying safe

We have been working since day one to ensure that we have enough personal protective equipment — PPE — and whether it be N95, other masks, gowns, face shields. We have never run out, though we've been down to less than a day of certain material.

... Some employees have been exposed and have come back sick. We have tested them, of course. We send them home. But we've had a number of, more than two dozen, that have come back because we're in our fourth week of this and so we've had some that are sick, have gone home, have recovered and now are back to work. That just shows you how dedicated and how strong they are.

On reporting that the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in Albany could have started at a particular funeral.

I would say we've seen some things that could confirm that. Funerals are a perfect opportunity [for spreading the virus] — a lot of crying, a lot of wiping noses, a lot of shaking of hands, of hugging, of kissing, touching microphones being used to celebrate the person that has passed. So, to me, and to what we've looked at it, it seems to be a perfect storm.

You can listen to the full interview on Morning Edition here . You can also listen to other medical professionals talk about their challenges working on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis, including:

  • An emergency room physician works one of the busiest hospitals in northern Mississippi
  • A doctor runs the emergency department at a hospital just outside of Seattle
  • A pharmacist in South Charleston, Ohio, faces a 50% surge in medication supply
  • NPR's HJ Mai produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Steve Inskeep
    Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.