AU Health renovates emergency department, preparing for potential COVID-19 surge


Renovations in the Emergency Department at Augusta University Health are now complete and the new units are open to patients.

NewsChannel 6’s Ashley Osborne got a tour of the renovated emergency rooms before they opened and talked to Dr. Richard Schwartz, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Dr. Schwartz explains how they are separating patients for their safety as well as the safety of hospital staff.

“What we’ve tried to do is create processes that are the safest for the patients,” says Dr. Schwartz.

Dr. Schwartz says the process begins outside the ER in the triage tent.

“[Patients] actually receive a telemedicine visit there and about 25% of those patients actually don’t even ever have to come into the hospital,” Dr. Schwartz points out.

The patients who do need to come into the ER are divided. There is one side for non-respiratory emergencies and the other side is for suspected COVID-19 patients.

“On the respiratory side, we have both a critical care for those patients who are in distress who may need procedures such as endotracheal intubation and to be put on a ventilator,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Then we have more acute rooms where patients who have symptoms of COVID, but may not necessarily be to the point that they need to have intubation.”

Last month, AU Health’s Emergency Department had 6 negative pressure rooms. Now they have 21.

“A negative pressure room is really the safest way to take care of respiratory patients who may have airborne particles,” Dr. Schwartz explains. “For example, when we are taking care of COVID patients, and we have to do a high risk procedure like intubation, the virus can be aerosolized, what a negative pressure room does is it draws air in from the outside and then it exhausts the air from that room through a vent and then it’s filtered before it goes outside.”

Crews completed the renovations in less than 3 weeks to beat Georgia’s projected virus peak date which keeps shifting. At last update, Governor Brian Kemp said the expected peak date is May 1.

“The fortunate thing is that we’ve been able to get the intensive care rooms ready to be open before that peak. As the illness peaks, that’s really when we will start seeing more and more of the critical care patients,” says Dr. Schwartz.

An additional phase of the renovation included the transformation of a former blood bank room that was no longer in use. Hospital staff turned the room into an overflow section in case of a COVID-19 surge.

Augusta Unviersity Health says the cost for the renovations to create the overflow unit were $140,000. The cost to renovate the critical care unit was $130,000.

We talked to Dr. Schwartz about other topics like their levels of PPE, beds and ventilators. We also talked about the types of cases they are admitting to the ER. Dr. Schwartz also has a message for all in our community.

Check out the full interview with Dr. Richard Schwartz below:

E Pod: Construction on new critical care unit with negative pressure rooms

X Pod: Construction to transform unused former blood bank room into an overflow wing

Photojournalist Gary Hipps

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