Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp was in Carrollton Wednesday, paying a visit to Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton to learn more about how community hospitals have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and to talk to the healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has presented unprecedented challenges across our state,” Gov. Kemp told a multidisciplinary group of healthcare workers in the intensive care unit at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton — where many of the region’s most acutely ill COVID-19 patients received care. “It’s something we’ve all been through, but you’ve been on the front lines. Thank you for all you’ve done.”
The governor was escorted into the ICU by a group of physicians and senior leadership representatives who have been at the forefront of the health system’s COVID-19 response.
“Let’s meet some of our heroes,” said Tanner President and CEO Loy Howard
, wrapping an arm around ICU nurse manager Nancy Harris, CCRN.
On the unit, Gov. Kemp met with a group of nurses, environmental services staff, respiratory therapists, palliative care nurses, pharmacists and others, hearing their concerns on staffing, taking precautions to stop the spread of the virus and supply shortages.
He also heard from staff who faced challenges beyond the in-hospital challenges of the pandemic, including those who stayed away from home for months at a time to prevent bringing the virus into their house and those facing homeschooling children while fighting on the front lines of the virus.
“I have three daughters myself,” said Gov. Kemp. “There’s going to be a generational effect like we’ll never know.”
The governor was led through the hospital by several physicians who have been deeply involved in battling the pandemic while continuing to push ahead with expanding healthcare services in the region.
“Our whole community responded,” said Laura Larson, MD
, an infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection prevention for Tanner. “I came into a room with a COVID-19 patient wearing one of our reusable green gowns. The lady told me, ‘I made that gown. We prayed over every one of those before we sent them out.’ And she recovered; she did well.”
On the ICU, the governor also saw several new rooms that were added during the pandemic and heard about how the hospital had converted other rooms to negative pressure, enabling the facility to safely care for COVID-19 patients without the risk of spreading the virus throughout the hospital.
“We really appreciate the Department of Community Health for helping hospitals open bed capacity,” said Howard. “That’s been vital to helping hospitals like ours expand the inpatient capacity we needed to handle a surge in patients.”
The governor also toured the hospital’s surgical services unit, which was largely shuttered during the pandemic but has returned to life the past several months.
Alyssa Howard, MD
, an anesthesiologist and Tanner’s chief of staff, said locking down the surgical services unit was concerning but necessary.
“We knew some folks could wait one month,” Dr. Howard said, “but not two.”
Testing, said Dr. Howard, was imperative to reopening healthcare services — especially testing that offered faster results.
“If we test on a Thursday, and they go to the beach over the weekend and have a procedure scheduled for Tuesday, that doesn’t work,” Dr. Howard said. “We need to know if they could be sick right before the procedure. Having a faster result is critical.”
The governor also learned more about Tanner’s plans to expand open-heart surgical care to west Georgia — the most populous part of Georgia without an open-heart program.
In recent years, Tanner has expanded lifesaving interventional cardiology services — like angioplasty and stenting — from Carrollton to Villa Rica and established accredited chest pain centers in both cities.
Late last year, the health system earned state approval to develop an open-heart surgery program at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton.
Shazib Khawaja, MD
, medical director of interventional cardiology at Tanner, explained to the governor how essential open-heart surgical care was to opening a comprehensive heart care program in the region.
“Lately, COVID-19 has taken center stage, but we’re pushing forward,” said Christopher Arant, MD
, also an interventional cardiologist and a member of Tanner’s board of directors. “People tell us that they don’t want to go to Atlanta for these services. It’s in the interest of the community to stay local.”
“This is the right time for us,” said Tanner CEO Howard. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in our region; comprehensive heart care will save lives.”
More information on Tanner’s services and news can be found at tanner.org