To say that the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges to Augusta University Health — and all medical facilities — would be a vast understatement.
“Initially, I don’t think people knew what to expect,” said Dr. Stephen Shiver, vice chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at AU Health and the Medical College of Georgia. “COVID has changed the way we do business in the ED in many respects. To my knowledge, it’s the highest admission rate we’ve ever had in this hospital.”
Before the pandemic, the hospital had two negative pressure rooms, where patients with infectious respiratory illnesses are placed in order to protect other patients and staff.
“We went to hospital administration and they were very proactive in helping us prepare and react to the pandemic,” Shiver said. “We were able to add quite a number of negative pressure rooms.”
The hospital converted over a dozen rooms that had been used for other purposes into negative pressure rooms.
“We put up a tent outside, which we used for triage purposes to decrease the probability of infecting patients and staff with COVID patients,” Shiver added.
After those early weeks of the pandemic, the hospital was able to replace the tent with a split waiting room for those who had come in contact with the virus and those who hadn’t.
The hospital also increased the use of telemedicine technology early on. A hotline was set up as well to determine which patients might need to come to the hospital so as not to bring in more people than necessary.
“We continue to learn about it every day, and with the passage of time, we’ve definitely improved our treatment with patients stricken with the disease,” Shiver said. “It’s been a team effort led by all the specialty groups within the hospital.”
As the hospital starts to roll out vaccines, which will be a long process, Shiver and his team will continue to improve how they treat those with COVID-19.
“This is certainly not a static process; it continues to evolve.”