​​Since Floyd Medical Center admitted our suspected first coronavirus (COVID-19) patient almost two weeks ago – the first in northwest Georgia – the quick, considerate and appropriate response led by our physicians, Floyd executives, our Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, and our clinical staff has continuously focused on protecting the health of our patients, our visitors, our employees and our community.

The events unfolded quickly, unpredictably and remarkably:

Our patient visited Floyd twice, returning the second time with worsening symptoms. On both occasions our patient did not meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 testing guidelines, which were strictly controlled due to a national shortage of tests. Several of our physicians voiced their concern that our patient should be tested and treated as potentially contagious.

Radiologists from Rome Radiology saw that the patient’s first two diagnostic imaging tests were similar to COVID-19 findings they had seen in their literature. The radiologists advised a cautious approach, and Dr. Gary Voccio, the new medical director of public health for our region, agreed, advising that we should be cautious and admit our patient, regardless of the testing guidelines.

We did just that, proactively isolating our patient in our infectious disease room, and treating her with contact precautions. Meanwhile, Dr. Voccio lobbied to get permission for our patient to have one of the scarce tests available. Our patient was tested, and two days later, we learned from the DPH that the results were “preliminarily positive.” We were then instructed that the CDC had to corroborate these findings with their own test. We received COVID-19 positive confirmation from the CDC four days after our patient was admitted.

Our patient had coronavirus. Our patient did need inpatient care. Had we followed the public health guidelines in place when our patient presented in our ECC, we might have admitted our patient to a general medical floor. Hundreds of staff, physicians and others would have been exposed. Many, many clinicians and others would have had to quarantine themselves.

Drs. Constantinos Spyris, Matthew McClain and Kirk Kizziah and their colleagues provided expert care and advice that set in place a diagnostic decision tree that now helps us to identify patients under investigation for COVID-19 more quickly. Their work, along with the efforts of our emergency physicians, hospitalists and clinical experts, has resulted in care that may well have prevented a much broader community spread of a disease that is proving to be dangerous.

That first patient was the catalyst for a new reality for our community and our organization. From late-night meetings and communications plans to new processes to limit exposure and address staffing challenges, Floyd employees and physicians have gotten up early and worked late to provide the best possible care to all our patients, not just those diagnosed with coronavirus. Daily meetings have produced new ideas and outside-the-box thinking that have led to strategies to address the pandemic head-on:

These extraordinary efforts started with the insistence of passionate physicians to test a patient who did not meet the federal or state requirements for testing, but whose diagnostic images revealed troubling signals, and grew from there:

  • Using the Northeast wing, formerly the Kindred Hospital building, for isolated care.
  • Enacting strict visitation rules, limited entrances and screenings at Floyd entrances.
  • Reassuring the community with messages about coming into contact with health care workers in public, self-protection, talking with children and spiritual and emotional care.
  • Monitoring supplies and providing daily updates on protocols, availability and business operations.

In the midst of addressing the compelling and immediate needs of delivering health care to patients infected with this virus, there were – and still are – daily decisions and efforts that are critical to public health and personal healing. It is reassuring and a point of pride to know that right here in our community, our radiologists were among the first in the nation to recognize and establish ways to diagnose patients who might contract this disease in an unknown community setting. We are thankful.

By Kurt Stuenkel, President and CEO