Northeast Georgia Medical Center file photo

Northeast Georgia Health System announced this week that it will increase its permanent critical care bed capacity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center is permanently expanding its critical care capacity at its Gainesville and Braselton campuses as a result of issues highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Northeast Georgia Health System faced a rapid demand for critical care beds a few times during the pandemic, mostly during the Delta variant wave, resulting in its locations being pushed to the limits in terms of capacity at times. The expansion, which will add six additional critical beds at the Braselton campus and 14 additional beds at the Gainesville campus, is being described by hospital officials as a “positive legacy” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the pandemic is far from over, we know we will increase the number of critical care beds across our hospital system,” said Dr. Larry Dudas, who is Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s medical director of Critical Care. “That’s what our community needs long term, regardless of COVID, as the population continues to grow. We need to grow to anticipate and meet the future need.”

The plans for a permanent increase in critical care bed capacity will result in the Braselton campus having 24 beds and the Gainesville campus having 81 beds after the pandemic. In all, the hospital system’s post-COVID-19 critical care bed capacity will be 20 beds higher than it was before the pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic in January, Northeast Georgia Medical Center was operating 150 critical care beds at its Gainesville campus and 44 beds at its Braselton campus. The news that Northeast Georgia Medical Center plans to have a larger post-COVID critical care bed capacity comes as the hospital system prepares to close the mobile medical unit that state officials loaned the hospital’s Gainesville campus last month to meet the increased demand spurred by the Delta variant. That unit is set to be taken down later this month.

“We’re very thankful for the help the state provided during a critical period of this pandemic,” says Dr. John Delzell, who is NGMC’s COVID-19 Incident Commander. “The state requested we return the unit, and timing was right as our number of COVID patients is declining and site prep to build a future patient tower nearby are beginning. We are making other plans to flex our capacity, though, just in case the numbers creep back up.”

Elizabeth Larkins, the executive director of Medical Nursing at NGMC, added, “Our team has been amazingly flexible, and we’ve received tremendous support from the state that allows us to meet the needs as they continue to ebb and flow.

“We’re still adjusting the number of critical care beds each day based on demand and the resources we have available. It’s stressful on everyone involved, especially given the national nursing shortage, but we have to find ways to continually adapt to meet the challenge our community faces.”

In addition to the planned the additional capacity at the end of the pandemic, Northeast Georgia Medical Center officials said existing space in the Gainesville campus’ North Patient Tower will be renovated to create a new medical observation unit with 24 observation rooms and support space for staff, that is expected to open by the end of this year.

Hospital officials are also planning a new tower that will open in late 2024 that will provide additional critical care space. The rooms in that tower will be designed so that that they can be adaptable to the needs of patients, and so that hospital staff can convert them into negative pressure space if needed.

“I’m so proud each member of our team continues to bring their best every day, always finding new ways to adapt and improve the health of our community in all we do,” NGHS president & CEO Carol Burrell said. “We continue to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, so, if they are infected, they are much more likely to avoid hospital care or death. Don’t hold off on getting non-COVID care when you need it, too, because our frontline healthcare workers are here for you 24/7.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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