Gov. Brian Kemp says the state of Georgia will keep paying for extra nurses to assist hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities that have struggled to find staff and keep up with demand because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Republican governor made the announcement Thursday during a news conference at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey and an intensive care unit nurse received a coronavirus vaccine in an attempt to demonstrate that it’s safe and effective.
Kemp said Georgia will commit as much as $70 million to pay staffing agencies that are providing extra nurses through March. Georgia is on track to spend $250 million on the program this year. The state has spent federal coronavirus aid on the program so far. Kemp said he hopes the federal government will free up more money to cover the costs, but spokesman Cody Hall said Georgia would use state money if no federal money is available.
Hospitals and nursing homes have struggled with staffing, as some employees are infected or quarantined, and they haven’t been able to easily hire more people to address surging demand.
Kemp reiterated that he won’t make any more orders to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which again set a daily record with more than 6,000 cases statewide on Thursday. Some people never show symptoms and most recover, but some sicken and die. Georgia has recorded more than 10,000 deaths.
Kemp said he hoped people would recognize that Thanksgiving had resulted in many more cases and downscale Christmas celebration plans to limit further transmission.
“I’m hopeful they’ll really help us,” Kemp said. “Don’t go out unless you need to. If you do, just wear a mask. Try not to go to things you don’t have to to stop the spread. Limit your gatherings for the holidays.”
The state also set another record of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Thursday, staying above 3,200. There were 23 hospitals statewide who were too full to take intensive care patients or any patients at all, according to the Georgia Coordinating Center, including both hospitals in Athens.
Grady, where the news conference was held, was turning away all patients. Grady Health System CEO John Haupert said hospitals were fuller now than in spring and summer because other patients have returned.
“The hospitals started off going into this peak fairly full,” Haupert said. “It’s a different, different event this time.”
In Gainesville, Northeast Georgia Medical Center began moving some COVID-19 patients into an overflow space in a gymnasium on Wednesday.
Associate Chief Nursing Officer Wes Garrison told The Times of Gainesville that the overflow section would primarily be used for patients who are infected with COVID-19-but are experiencing less severe symptoms and may be waiting to be transferred to another facility. There are 16 cots in the gym, with space for up to 30, Garrison said.
In the spring, the state set up a 20-bed overflow pod at the hospital, but it too is full. Northeast Georgia Health System said it had 262 confirmed COVID-19 patients on Wednesday across its four hospitals, with 37 more awaiting test results.