ATLANTA – As COVID hospitalizations soar in Georgia and Democrats and Republicans spar over how to deal with them, the state’s largest hospital system is canceling all non-essential medical procedures and surgeries.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Grady Health System CEO John Haupert said, “The Labor Day weekend proved to be labor-intensive at Grady. Seriously ill patients with COVID-19 and other significant health issues inundated the hospital. And because other hospitals in the area are just as full, our weekend-long total diversion status did little to slow the steady stream of ambulance-delivered patients. And remember, like any other hospital, it is our responsibility to always care for anyone who comes through our doors – we will never turn anyone away.
“Because of the strain this is putting on the health system, our patients, and our staff, we must make some changes to the way we operate. As of today, we are canceling non-essential outpatient surgery and procedures. We will regularly review patient volumes to determine when we can resume those services. We are working through this as best we can, all while watching closely for a potential post-holiday COVID-19 surge.
“We realize this is a decision that will inconvenience our patients but is necessary under these extraordinary circumstances to keep our patients and staff safe.”
On Wednesday, two Georgia Democratic congressmen – David Scott of Atlanta and Hank Johnson of Stone Mountain – wrote a letter urging Gov. Brian Kemp to enact a statewide pause on elective, in-patient surgeries. They also called for Kemp to extend licensing waivers for hospitals and health-care workers who provide critical services beyond the current waivers’ Sept. 19 expiration date.
“Hospital systems are being forced to make difficult decisions about how to care for patients when there aren’t enough resources to go around,” the congressmen said. “Our state is at a critical point in its fight against the pandemic and as elected officials, we must prioritize the health and well-being of our citizens above all other considerations.”
In response, Kemp urged Scott and Johnson to “request the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set a maximum rate for contract health-care workers” and “demand clear guidance from the [federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the White House regarding COVID-19 booster shots and their detailed logistical plans to assist states in this enormous undertaking.
“My top priority over the last month has been to ensure hospitals across our state have the necessary resources at their disposal to deliver care to Georgians in need,” Kemp wrote.
The governor said he has directed the state Department of Community Health to increase state-supported hospital staffing from 1,500 to 2,800 and authorized up to 2,500 Georgia National Guard troops to assist hospital systems with non-medical staffing needs.
Wednesday’s latest coronavirus figures from the state Department of Public Health show 1.14 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, with more than 20,000 deaths and 75,214 hospitalizations.
On Tuesday, a personal finance website, WalletHub, released a survey showing Georgia ranks 47th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of overall coronavirus recovery.
ATLANTA – Two of Georgia’s senior congressmen are urging Gov. Brian Kemp to take action in the wake of a surge in COVID hospitalizations.
U.S. Reps. David Scott, D-Atlanta, and Hank Johnson, D-Stone Mountain, urged Kemp Tuesday to order a statewide pause on elective, in-patient surgeries. They also called for Kemp to extend licensing waivers for hospitals and health-care workers who provide critical services beyond the current waivers’ Sept. 19 expiration date.
In a letter to Kemp, Johnson and Scott said the COVID-19’s delta variant has caused “a sharp increase in the number of confirmed cases, particularly among children and the unvaccinated.
“Hospital systems are being forced to make difficult decisions about how to care for patients when there aren’t enough resources to go around,” they said. “Our state is at a critical point in its fight against the pandemic and as elected officials, we must prioritize the health and well-being of our citizens above all other considerations.”
The letter follows numbers posted Sept. 3 by the Georgia Department of Public Health in which the state surpassed 20,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Scott and Johnson also said recent data shows unvaccinated patients have pushed Georgia’s hospitals to their capacity limits, with nearly 92% of emergency room beds in the state currently occupied.
In response, Kemp urged Scott and Johnson to “request the Federal Emergency Management Administration to set a maximum rate for contract healthcare workers” and “demand clear guidance from the CDC and the White House regarding COVID-19 booster shots and their detailed logistical plans to assist states in this enormous undertaking.
“My top priority over the last month has been to ensure hospitals across our state have the necessary resources at their disposal to deliver care to Georgians in need,” Kemp responded. He said he has directed the state Department of Community Health to increase state-supported hospital staffing from 1,500 to 2,800 personnel, and authorized up to 2,500 Georgia National Guard troops to assist hospital systems with non-medical staffing needs.
On Tuesday, a personal finance website, WalletHub, released a survey showing Georgia ranks 47th among all 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of overall coronavirus recovery.
“We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure the availability of adequate hospital capacity to provide the best possible care for COVID-9 patients,” Johnson and Scott wrote. “Placing a temporary pause on elective procedures and extending licensing requirement waivers for hospitals and health-care workers would demonstrate Georgia’s commitment to our health care community and your continued dedication to eradicating the pandemic.”
“While well-intentioned, it is abundantly clear that you have not reached out to my office or spoken with hospital leadership across Georgia,” Kemp replied. “If you had, you would know I have repeatedly utilized executive orders to streamline licensing requirements on healthcare systems since March 2020.”
Scott is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Johnson is chair of the HouseJudiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet.
This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.
The long winter of COVID-19 looks to be coming to an end in Georgia.
All Georgians age 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting this Thursday, March 25, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday.
The long-awaited expansion comes as Georgia is set to receive another boost in the weekly shipment of vaccines, largely due to the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine that increased the state’s allotment this week to 450,000 doses, according to the governor.
“This is our ticket back to normal,” Kemp said. “We’re getting closer to that point every single day.”
Speaking at a news conference, Kemp said Georgia expects to gain another bump in vaccine doses next week from the federal government – though he was not sure yet how much more the state will receive.
So far, Georgia has distributed roughly 3.2 million vaccine doses to groups that have gradually become eligible since mid-December, including all residents ages 55 and older, health-care workers, nursing home residents and staff, first responders, judges, courtroom staff and people with physical, mental or behavioral health conditions.
The vaccine rollout has seen nearly 75% of the state’s residents ages 65 and older receive at least their first dose, setting Georgia on a path to having its most vulnerable population inoculated in the coming weeks.
Still, state officials continue to see “vaccine hesitancy” in rural areas, particularly parts of Georgia south of the Columbus-Macon-Augusta line.
In a show of confidence, Kemp said he is scheduled to get his first vaccine dose on Friday and has been talking with former University of Georgia football star Champ Bailey to spread awareness in Georgia about the efficacy – and importance – of receiving the vaccine.
“I just want to encourage everybody to get the vaccine,” Kemp said. “We’re seeing this across the country, but especially in the South, we’re seeing vaccine hesitancy.”
“There should not be hesitancy. This is a medical miracle.”
Amid hesitancy in rural Georgia, Kemp said Tuesday officials this week sent 70% of the state’s weekly vaccine doses to sites in metro Atlanta, where demand has been consistently higher.
The governor said many providers in the Atlanta area currently have appointments available for the shots, including a mass site downtown run by the federal government at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“If you’re in the metro where demand continues to be high, we’ve got great options,” Kemp said.
Georgians can pre-register for a vaccine appointment at myvaccinegeorgia.com even if they do not yet qualify under the governor’s eligibility criteria. They will be notified once they qualify and scheduled for an appointment.
State officials have opened nine mass vaccination sites in Atlanta, Macon, Albany, Savannah, Columbus, Waycross and Bartow, Washington and Habersham counties.
Nearly 845,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Tuesday afternoon, with more than 203,000 more reported positive antigen tests indicating likely positive results. The virus has killed 16,187 Georgians.
Georgia has not yet reached the halfway point in giving first doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the roughly 2 million people currently eligible more than a month after the state’s distribution program began, Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday.
The number of shots administered to Georgia health-care workers, nursing home residents and staff, first responders and people ages 65 and older has gone up in recent weeks after a halting mid-December start, Kemp said at a news conference in the state Capitol.
Kemp’s office announced Tuesday night the Biden administration will start allocating Georgia an additional roughly 25,000 vaccine doses per week. That will increase Georgia’s current weekly allotment to 145,900 doses, Kemp’s office said – an amount still lagging far behind the millions of doses needed to halt the virus’ spread.
“Although we still expect demand to far exceed supply for the foreseeable future, this is no doubt welcome news, and we will work around the clock to get these vaccines distributed and safely administered as quickly as possible,” Kemp said in a statement Tuesday night.
Kemp had earlier on Tuesday said his office did not know when the federal government would allocate more vaccine doses, saying he had not yet spoken directly with the new Biden administration and that he did not expect Georgia’s weekly allotment “to change certainly for the next few weeks.”
As of Monday, nearly 714,000 vaccines had been administered to the initial round of Georgians eligible to receive them, said state Public Health Director Dr. Kathleen Toomey. Health departments across the state have enough vaccines to schedule second doses for people who have received their first, she said.
More than 99% of the state’s nursing homes have also been supplied vaccines through a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, Kemp said. He has set a goal to vaccinate all of Georgia’s nursing home residents and staff by the end of this month.
But limited shipments from the federal government have kept state officials so far from expanding which Georgians can be eligible for the vaccine to school teachers and other at-risk groups such as those with developmental disabilities, Toomey said.
“All this is dependent on the availability of vaccine,” Toomey said at Tuesday’s news conference.
Vaccine providers have also met resistance from some nursing homes and hospitals where people have refused to take the vaccine. Kemp said some nursing homes saw up to 70% of staff refuse the vaccine early on during the rollout, while as many as 50% of employees in some hospitals refused it.
“I think they should get it,” Kemp said. “That was one of the reasons that we expanded the criteria … to people 65 and older.”
The governor added officials are creating a statewide vaccine scheduling and tracking tool as local health departments field a flood of calls for the few available appointments, but more work is needed before that tool can go online.
“Doing that prematurely could be disastrous,” Kemp said.
Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations and positive case rates from COVID-19 has fallen in recent days amid a rough winter spike that began in November, Kemp said. He urged Georgians to continue wearing masks, washing hands and keeping their distance from others despite the downward trend.
“We cannot take the improving numbers we’re seeing for granted,” Kemp said.
More than 722,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Monday afternoon, with nearly 150,000 more reported positive antigen tests indicating likely positive results. The virus has killed 11,854 Georgians.
This story was updated to note Kemp’s office announced late Tuesday the Biden administration will start allocating Georgia an additional roughly 25,000 vaccine doses per week.
State lawmakers plan to bring new legislation aimed at helping victims of human trafficking in Georgia recover from abuse and protect their identities, Gov. Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp announced Monday.
One bill would change state law to give privacy protections for human-trafficking survivors who want to legally change their names, Marty Kemp said at a news conference. Another bill would let survivors sue their traffickers for damages in civil court.
A third bill would require anyone seeking to obtain or renew a commercial driver’s license in Georgia to complete a human-trafficking awareness course, the first lady said.
“We are dedicated to giving survivors opportunities for promising futures and holding their captors accountable,” said Marty Kemp, who heads up the human trafficking-focused GRACE Commission.
The slate of bills on deck in the current legislative session would follow legislation passed last year that toughened penalties on foster parents engaging in improper sexual behavior with children in their care and on commercial drivers with human-trafficking criminal convictions.
Legislation was also passed last year allowing victims to clear their court records of any offenses stemming from activities while they were being trafficked.
The governor has made fighting human trafficking a priority since taking office in 2019. On top of tasking his wife to lead the GRACE Commission, he charged the Georgia Bureau of Investigation with cracking down harder on traffickers through a multi-agency task force created last year.
State officials also created a new hotline in September for Georgians to alert law enforcement officers of sexual or labor exploitation and to receive help for victims. Thousands of state government employees have also taken a trafficking-awareness course during the past year on how to spot abuse.
“There is always more work to be done,” Kemp said Monday. “We will not let up. We’re still fighting.”
The number for the state’s human-trafficking hotline is 1-866-ENDHTGA.
Gov. Brian Kemp doubled down on his refusal to call an election-focused special session and pledged to address Georgia’s election issues in the upcoming legislative session during a conference with state lawmakers on Monday.
Kemp is facing intense criticism from President Donald Trump and his allies for not intervening in Georgia’s presidential election, which certified results show Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden by 11,779 votes.
Some Republican lawmakers are pressuring Kemp to call a special session before next month to pick Electoral College members who will vote for Trump instead of Biden, despite the certified results from the Nov. 3 general election.
Speaking before state lawmakers Monday in Athens, Kemp said state law prevents him from calling a session to choose different Electoral College members. It only lets lawmakers pick the presidential electors if the election could not be held on its scheduled date, he said.
Instead, Kemp said he wants lawmakers to focus on crafting legislation aimed at bolstering the state’s voter ID laws in the regular legislative session that starts in mid-January.
“I am confident that when the legislature reconvenes in January, we will have ample time to address any issues that have come to the attention of the members of the General Assembly, my office [and] the public over the last few weeks,” Kemp said.
The three-day Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators is held every two years at the University of Georgia in Athens and convenes General Assembly members to talk policy and procedure ahead of next month’s regular session.
In a luncheon speech, the governor highlighted successful bills his administration backed in the most recent legislative session on foster care, criminal gangs, human trafficking, health care and hate crimes.
That legislation came as Georgia confronted the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered businesses and forced students to take virtual classes from home in March.
“Each of these are great achievements and worthy of celebrating,” Kemp said. “But make no mistake: This is no time to rest on our laurels or take our eye off the ball.”
Kemp said his administration’s approach to seeking balance between public health and economic interests “has shown promising signs of success,” despite an increase in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks that health experts expect to worsen during the winter holidays.
The governor said he is working with nursing homes and hospitals to help boost short-handed staff as part of $250 million in emergency funds the state plans to spend on staff augmentation.
The biennial conference, which has drawn many prominent Georgia lawmakers and elected officials including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, also featured panels Monday on rural issues, gambling opportunities and tax breaks.
This story previously stated President-elect Biden won Georgia by 11,784 votes. The correct margin is 11,779 votes.