As Coastal Georgia hospitals fill with COVID patients, doctors urge vaccinations

Hospitals in Camden and Ware counties near capacity

Southeast Georgia medical experts from all hospital systems in the eight-county coastal district are telling people to get vaccinated as low vaccination rates, lack of mask wearing and lack of social distancing fuels the spread of the Delta variant.

Doctors and nurses from all hospital systems in the eight-county Coastal Georgia Health District came together Monday with one message: get vaccinated.

“We find ourselves here today, physicians and providers from across our region, pleading with those we serve to listen to the stories of these lives lost, family scarred and hospital stressed,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker of Memorial Health in Savannah. “(We’re) employing our communities not only to listen to the science but also listen to the same doctors who have been here for you when you broke your arm the same ones who are here for you when your spouse had a heart attack.”

Beyond sharing the rising number of illnesses, they are troubled by the changing nature of the patients they are treating and the lack of people taking advantage of the alternative to getting sick -- free vaccines that are widely available to anyone age 12 and above.

“I can tell you about a 33-year-old we put on a ventilator last week. I can tell you about a 27-year-old that is dying,” said Alan Brown, chief medical officer of Southeast Georgia Health System. “But for some reason, we cannot get this message to our communities. Healthcare providers realize that this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated and largely avoidable. That’s very frustrating and taxing on the people that are working hard every day.”

With hospital capacities in Camden and Ware counties listed as severe and others that aren’t full seeing the highest level of COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began, doctors and nurses from across Southeast Georgia gathered Monday to help people understand the “gravity of the situation.”

Monday morning, the state’s medical facility dashboard shows Georgia has 3,334 COVID-19 patients. Hospital capacities in Camden and Ware counties were listed as severe and other facilities in the region that aren’t full seeing the highest level of COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

Region J, which includes Glynn and Camden counties, shows nearly 23.7% of patients are classified as COVID-19 patients. Region M, which includes Ware, Brantley and Charlton Counties, 34.5% of patients were diagnosed with coronavirus.

Of 112 COVID patients at the Southeast Georgia Health System on Monday, 36 were in intensive care -- double its capacity -- and only two of the ICU patients were vaccinated. Hospitals in Camden and Glynn have canceled elective procedures, devoting all resources to critically ill patients.

Georgia’s low vaccination rates are troubling to those on the front lines. While the state said 47% of Georgians have had their first shot, the rate in Camden and Ware counties is under 40% and under 30% in Brantly and Charlton’s counties.

Hospital leaders say the delta variant combined with low vaccination rates and the abandonment of wearing a mask or social distancing is fueling the COVID-19 surge.

“I don’t know where we’re going to be in a week, I don’t know if we’re going to have field hospitals, but if we look at the trend that happens that is going on in Jacksonville, that’s the direction that we’re all heading in,” Brown said.

As of Friday, Camden County was seeing the highest transmission rate in Southeast Georgia -- 1,014 cases per 100,000 residents. That includes positive cases from PCR and antigen tests

“Due to this virus close to 1½ million children have lost a loved one whose purpose was to raise them,” Memorial Health Dr. Stephen Thacker said. “That’s 1½ million children who will grow up without a parent or grandparent or loved one who is going to teach them how to read how to drive and who is going to be there for those pivotal moments as a child became an adult.”

There have been 209 deaths related to COVID at the two Southeast Georgia Health System hospitals since March 2020 -- the start of the pandemic.

UNCUT: Watch the entire news conference

“Some of these patients get really bad and we have to call family members,” one hospital employee told News4Jax about those sick with COVID-19. “Just watching them having to sit in a chair outside of that glass door just staring at their family member, not being able to hold her hand, not being able to give the love or care for them that they want to.”

The staff member who didn’t want to be identified was pleading for everyone to help.

“We are fighting so hard and we want the community to know we what their help and backing us up with wearing masks getting vaccinated and doing all of this it could help everybody tremendously.”

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.