One Albany hotspot hospital now free of COVID-19 patients

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic swept into southwest Georgia in early March, Albany-based Phoebe Putney Health System has no COVID-19 patients left in its main hospital, the system announced Thursday.

It has 42 patients with the disease remaining in Albany at Phoebe North, a coronavirus expansion ward it built for the epidemic, and at its nearby Sumter County hospital.

“We have reached an important milestone,” said Phoebe Putney Health System CEO Scott Steiner, expressing pride in his team and gratitude to the state for assistance.

» CONTINUING COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

“Today, for the first time since the COVID-19 crisis began in early March, we do not have any COVID-19 patients in our main hospital, and we did not have any new COVID-19 admissions in the last 24 hours,” he said. “Every member of the Phoebe Family remains ready and committed to take on any future challenges posed by the virus to ensure we provide the care the people of southwest Georgia need.”

The state's first COVID-19 death is thought to be connected to the Albany area's outbreak. It spread there after two large funerals took place in late February and early March. After a couple of weeks of incubation, sickened patients came to Phoebe, then overwhelmed it.

» FROM MARCH: Coronavirus exacts heavy toll in Albany

At a time when the severity, and in some cases the existence, of the coronavirus pandemic was a source of political controversy, Steiner was among the first in Georgia to raise alarms about what he was seeing at his facilities with the disease and its startling drain on masks, beds and staff resources, even in its beginning stages.

“This event is unlike anything anyone has ever seen,” Steiner told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in mid-March.

As some other hospitals shielded from public view the extent and gravity of the outbreak’s impact in their own facilities, Phoebe issued a call for help through transparency. Under Steiner, Phoebe let the public know daily how many COVID-19 patients it had in each of its facilities, how many recovered and how many died.

» FROM MARCH: Preparing for surge, hospitals limit visitors, reschedule surgeries

As testing lagged and the hospital was forced to waste protective masks because it didn’t know who was infected and who wasn’t, it began releasing numbers of patients still waiting for test results. The number quickly topped 1,000. Phoebe counted the numbers of people who could not get test results after waiting for more than a week, putting pressure on officials.

The hospital system became a national story, appearing in news articles and broadcasts from coast to coast. Eventually the state sent in significant reinforcements in testing and patient care.

Up to now, 378 inpatients have left Phoebe hospitals alive and 130 have died.

A Phoebe spokesman, Ben Roberts, said the numbers decreased in Albany this week, as nine were discharged and two died. The final intensive care unit at the main hospital that was given over to COVID-19 will be temporarily closed, deep cleaned and sanitized.