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.

Sept. 8 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.

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.

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