The Chamber welcomed hospital officials from across West Alabama Thursday, January 14, for a regional healthcare update. Paul Betz, Chief Operating Officer, DCH Health System; Dr. Marcia Pugh, CEO/Administrator, Greene County Health System; and Douglas Brewer, CEO Administrator, Whitfield Regional Hospital, provided updated information on their facilities’ current COVID-19 numbers and procedures.
Douglas Brewer gave an overview of Whitfield Regional Hospital, located in Demopolis. Whitfield has changed a lot in the past couple of years, said Brewer, as the hospital is now a UAB affiliate. The only hospital in Marengo County, Whitfield has 100 beds with a 7-bed Intensive Care Unit. Since March 2020, the hospital has tested more than 8,300 patients, with just under 1,200 testing positive for COVID-19 – a positive rate of 14 percent. Seventeen percent of the facility’s employees have tested positive, with zero fatalities. The facility began Moderna vaccinations on December 21 and have vaccinated approximately 400 front line workers, and are preparing to vaccinate the general public. “We are working with the school system to vaccinate teachers as soon as we are allowed,” Brewer said. “We are trying to be as proactive as possible.”
Marcia Pugh, with the Greene County Health System, said their facility has 20 beds with six in the Emergency Department. Even with no ICU and no ventilators, the system has treated several COVID patients daily.
“We perform antibody and PCR testing, and between 20 and 25 percent of our patients test positive,” Pugh said. The positive patient caseload has strained the facility’s staff, she said. “Between 60 and 75 percent of our staff, depending upon the department, has had COVID,” she said.
Paul Betz said DCH Health System continues to see spikes attributed to recent public events and following holidays, as well as an increase over the winter. “Colder weather is driving people to be indoors more and causing people to share the virus,” he said. Betz said the facilities team continues to work with the daily challenges of having the right types of beds when they need them.
DCH Health System is taking a proactive approach to virus treatment, and Betz says physicians are having good results with outpatient antibody infusion, which is administered to mild to moderated COVID-19 patients at high risk of progressing to a more severe case. Patient treatment is conducted at the Northport campus, and is increasing from 24 patients per week to 160 per week.
With respect to the vaccine, Betz said DCH has received three shipments totaling 7,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and has administered 3,200 doses, with the focus on first responders and employees who provide direct patient care. With the Alabama Department of Public Health now allowing the expansion of vaccination to all hospital employees, law enforcement, firefighters, and patients above 75 years of age, DCH is pivoting to increase capacity. However, Betz says that while DCH has requested additional vaccine doses, they are not receiving them.
“We have storage capacity for 40,000 doses,” he says. “We have a safe, convenient setup, but we cannot get the supplies. We have 4,600 doses on hand right now, but we have to hold back a certain amount for second doses.”
Betz said they are continuing to order doses, and noted that eligible individuals should go ahead and sign up for vaccination at www.dchsystem.com/covidvaccine/ to receive an appointment as soon as one is available.
“This vaccine is safe and effective,” Betz said. “I encourage anyone who has questions about the vaccine to self-educate rather than listen to others. Take the time to read about it, then make the appointment to get the vaccine.”