(Feb. 19, 2021) The now departed year of 2020 posed colossal challenges for Atlantic General Hospital and Health Systems (AGH), and hospital leaders on Tuesday explained to the Worcester County Commissioners how the hospital weathered the storm.
Despite a “worst case scenario” year, Greg Shockley, chairman of the AGH Board of Trustees, said 2020 was a year of embracing highs and adapting to lows. During the first wave of the pandemic, he said, community support was a lifeline for staff.
Nettie Widgeon, RN has served on the hospital’s front lines for 17 years. She said, “this past year has been a struggle...we had to adjust.”
Widgeon told the commissioners that when hospitals around the country were running out of personal protective equipment for staff, AGH was fully supplied with masks, gowns, and gloves. And when emotional exhaustion set in, she said gifts like flowers, cards and supportive messages from the community lifted spirits.
Buoyed by community support, the hospital’s response to the pandemic was quick and focused the commissioners were told. In March, the hospital added an intensive care unit to serve as a covid-19 ward, a space that ultimately supported the treatment and discharge of more than 225 covid patients.
Just weeks later, the hospital set up an overflow area for non-covid-19 patients and negative pressure rooms with airflow modified to non-recirculating. For patients with cold and flu-like symptoms, a secondary ER was created to provide respiratory care.
An Atlantic Immedicare location in Ocean City was then converted to a covid-19 screening center in preparation for the anticipated pandemic surge. As the hospital continued improvements to contend with the pandemic, new treatments were becoming available. By the end of April, AGH was working with Blood Bank of Delmarva to provide convalescent plasma as a covid-19 treatment.
AGH President and CEO, Michael Franklin, helped explain how the hospital confronted the pandemic while remaining financially responsible, providing free community benefits, and expanding the hospital’s primary care and specialty staff. Focused on a mission to be a leader in caring for people and advancing health for the residents and visitors to the Worcester County, AGH provided over $15 million in free and reduced-cost services to the community last year, Franklin said.
A central challenge in achieving the hospital’s mission, Franklin said, is improving health equity in the community.
“We fight on a weekly basis to get our allotment of vaccine supplies,” Franklin said.
While an impressive 17 percent of the Worcester County population has received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine, communities of color represent less than two percent of those numbers.
He said building public trust and providing equitable care is central to the hospital’s mission. To that end, Worcester County Commissioner Diana Purnell is working with AGH to improve care, reduce vaccine hesitancy, and to get vaccines to the most vulnerable and at risk members within communities of color.
Franklin said the hospital is also committed to providing expanded care to the large senior population in Ocean Pines. The Ocean Pines project, a priority in past years, was delayed in 2020 due to covid-19. The goal of the expansion into Berlin is to add surgical services and help consolidate existing community services into a single location convenient to Ocean Pines. While the scope of the project has changed, Franklin says the hospital is moving forward with planning and permitting.