Special Rome hospital for lengthy stays to close as coronavirus looms

Floyd Medical Center for years has freed up some of its beds by sending longer-term patients next door to Kindred Hospital. Now, as coronavirus looms, Kindred is set to shut down April 6.

A small specialty hospital in northwest Georgia announced it is shutting down April 6, just as coronavirus spreads in the state. The main hospital next door is converting some of its beds for future patients, just in case it overflows with coronavirus cases.

“It’s been really a godsend for us,” said David Early, vice president of support services and operations for Floyd Medical Center in Rome, which will take over the beds.

Floyd Medical has the state's first confirmed case outside metro Atlanta of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The patient is in isolation.

The shuttering facility, Kindred Hospital in Rome, is a special hospital for patients who need a few weeks’ stay. Common cases at such sites are older patients in respiratory failure who need more time to get off of ventilators.

Kindred used its third floor as a type of intensive care unit — with isolation rooms — which is just the type facility useful for virus patients. There is space and hookups in each room for machinery such as a ventilator. Two of the rooms are built as negative-pressure rooms, meaning that whatever’s in the air there doesn’t float out of the room.

The key to the quick transition is that Floyd Medical was prepared to take over. It already had plans to work with Kindred’s space, and it already had staff lists drawn up. The last few days have been spent not wondering if it should broach the possibility of a new ward, but converting the space, alerting the staff, and buying ventilators.

“The lucky thing is — not ‘lucky’ — but we’ve been really prepared in Floyd and planned for these things in the past,” said Ben Rigas, Floyd Medical’s emergency preparedness officer. “It goes back several years, not just a couple weeks.”

They don’t know if or when patients will come but, “We are preparing as if we were going to use these beds tonight,” Rigas said.

The hospital’s CEO notes that Floyd Medical Center doesn’t have special coronavirus expertise. If a lot of coronavirus patients do show up, the hospital will have the same challenge as others finding additional staff.

Early gave props to Kindred for cooperating as they were decommissioning the hospital. Kindred told the AJC in a statement the closure was “a strategic decision.”

The specialty hospital’s closure wasn’t about coronavirus, but it underscores the precarious state of Georgia’s hospital capacity if something big and unexpected hits.

Kindred Healthcare is partially owned by a private equity firm. Kindred owns dozens of long-term acute-care hospitals, and over the last couple of years, it has closed several in Texas and other states.

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