Hospital works to meet virus challenge


St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital has been able to meet every challenge thus far caused by the coronavirus pandemic, hospital President Jeff English said.

  • St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital has been able to meet every challenge thus far caused by the coronavirus pandemic, hospital President Jeff English said.
    St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital has been able to meet every challenge thus far caused by the coronavirus pandemic, hospital President Jeff English said.

LAVONIA – St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital has been able to meet every challenge thus far caused by the coronavirus pandemic, hospital President Jeff English said.

Moving forward, the hospital needs people to continue to guard their health and not to be afraid to use the hospital for all services, he said.

Thus far, Sacred Heart has admitted 14 patients due the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Considering the outbreak just to our northeast in Hall and Habersham counties that has sickened more than 3,300 people and led to 471 hospitalizations and 87 deaths, we have been fortunate,” English said in an email interview. “That outbreak is a reminder that this disease remains with us and can flare up at any time. We urge people to stay on their guard and continue to cover their mouth and nose with a mask anytime they are out in public, maintain at least six feet of physical distance, avoid crowds and large gatherings, and wash or sanitize their hands often. If anyone develops symptoms, they should stay home and call their doctor.”

According to information from the state, has had 193 confirmed cases of the virus since the pandemic began. Fifteen people have been hospitalized overall in the county and one person has died.

The majority of people diagnosed with the virus at the hospital had mild symptoms and were sent home, English said.

But symptoms like fever, shortness of breath, chest pain and those who needed oxygen were admitted to the hospital.

“Any COVID-19 related patients are cohorted together in our critical care unit,” English said.  “We follow CDC protocols and guidelines for isolation of all positive patients and patients under investigation for COVID-19, including all PPE for our colleagues and providers.  All staff are required to wear a mask at all times except when eating, and those in direct patient care areas wear N95 masks. All patients and visitors are required to wear masks as well.”

English said the length of stay in the hospital was based on the patient’s system and “only a few” cases required a ventilator.

“We have treated the majority of our patients at Sacred Heart but some we've transferred,” he said.  “We have pulmonologists and infectious disease physicians on staff at Sacred Heart and we're able to consult them on each patient.  The team of physicians takes into consideration the unique patient situation and determines the best course of treatment and care.”

As part of Trinity Health, which also owns St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens and Good Samaritan Hospital in Greensboro, Sacred Heart was able to get all of the supplies it needed for patients and staff members, English said.

“No, we've never run out of the necessary supplies and equipment to take care of patients,” he said. “As for bed capacity, we worked with St. Mary's in Athens to develop a surge plan should the need arise.  Thankfully, we haven't had to use that plan.”  

Most of the coronvirus patients coming into the hospital have been walk-ins or brought there by ambulance, English said.

Testing has been limited to patients who come into the hospital, he said.

“We have partnered with other labs for testing of patients not in the hospital,” English said.

While other hospitals in the area released the number of tests they conducted and the number of people testing positive, Sacred Heart did not.

“As I mentioned before, we're part of Trinity Health and their policy is to not release any patient-related information,” English said. “Plus, in a small community like ours, especially early on when we didn't have a lot of cases, releasing numbers combined with community word-of-mouth would have made it easy to find out who these patients were.  We take pride in protecting our patient's private health information.”

The response the virus, which included an order that hospitals shutdown any non-essential or non-emergency services, has took a toll on the hospital financially.

Sacred Heart has been eligible for some federal relief funds.

“While we’re appreciative of everything the federal government has done to support healthcare, it’s really a drop in the bucket compared to what we need financially to get us through this pandemic,” English said.  “Before the pandemic, Sacred Heart was in a good place financially and our patient volumes were the strongest we had seen in five years.  We just need to get back to those levels and we need the community support to do it.  People ask me all the time how they can help the hospital and the healthcare workers. Just using our services is the best way you can help.”

English said that the hospital had to furlough some employees but have started to bring them back as services have opened back up.

“As to our ability to bring the remaining employees back from furlough, a lot will depend on how quickly our volumes get back to normal,” he said. “As evidenced by our numbers, we have not seen a large influx of COVID-19 patients in the community or in our facility.  Thus, for almost a month now, we've taken steps to reopen Sacred Heart for all elective surgeries and outpatient testing so that we can meet the needs of the community.  Our visitation policy has been relaxed but we're still requiring patients and visitors to wear masks and we screen everyone who comes in the building. We continue to take those measures just to keep everyone safe.”  

Sacred Heart is now offering all surgeries and outpatient testing.  

“I want to encourage those people who have been waiting to not neglect your health,” English said.  “Please feel safe in coming to Sacred Heart and go ahead and get the necessary testing or surgery that you've been putting off.  We want patients to have confidence to not delay care they need and certainly don't want them to wait until their disease progresses to the point of a crisis state.” 

English said that the hospital’s staff and doctors have been resilient during the pandemic.

“Tough times don't last but tough people do, and the Sacred Heart Team has exemplified that,” he said.  “I also want to thank the community for their wonderful support, whether it was making masks for us or providing a meal or just saying a prayer.  It was all needed and appreciated.”