ALBANY — The first COVID-19 patients being treated at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital were moved to the Phoebe North campus Wednesday, into the 24-bed modular hospital unit constructed by the state of Georgia’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency using state funding.

The facility, constructed by Choate Construction of Atlanta utilizing 21 shipping container units, is the first of four being built by GEMA/HS. Others will follow in Macon, Rome and Gainesville.

Phoebe officials said five patients were moved to the facility Wednesday.

“The hospital unit was built on our property, but this was completely a state project,” Phoebe Health System CEO/President Scott Steiner said Wednesday morning. “The idea was to have such a facility available in the event of any type of pandemic. Of course, when the idea surfaced to build the facility four to six weeks ago, our reaction was, ‘Yes, we’ll take any help we can get.’ We wanted to expand bed capacity. At that time, we didn’t know if this pandemic was going to go on indefinitely.

“Obviously — thankfully — there is not as great a need now, but moving COVID patients to this facility allows us to open the capacity at the main hospital. I hope we don’t have to use this facility very long, but it’s comforting to have it in place in the event there is any kind of super surge with the virus.”

Construction workers, aided by Georgia National Guard personnel, hurriedly worked through a punch list of last-minute details Wednesday morning, and around noon health care staff started arriving.

“I was allowed to pick a team that will work with the patients here on this excellent project, and I was allowed to select the best of the best,” Med Surge Supervisor Tamilia Lowery of Tallahassee, Fla., said as RNs Taylor Bishop of Savannah and Kari Brown and Mariela Escalera of Gainesville arrived.

Phoebe Public Relations and Communications Director Ben Roberts said most of the medical personnel who will work at the COVID-19-specific facility are employees of Jackson Health Care of Atlanta, which contracted with the state of Georgia to provide health care personnel to augment Phoebe’s staff.

“They really got this facility up in a hurry,” Roberts said Wednesday as he gave a brief tour of the unit. “I think they started doing site prep work in early April, and the construction crews arrived on the site around April 15. That’s when the containers were delivered.

“As you can see, the rooms are a little narrower (than typical hospital rooms), but there is everything you need here. All of the necessary equipment is in place, and you have a good-sized bathroom with a shower. The TVs are nice ... it’s everything our patients will need.”

Phoebe IT Project Manager Keith Hobbs was at the site Wednesday, making last-minute computer checks at doctor/nurses stations.

“I think we’re about as ready as we can get,” Hobbs said as he looked over a computer unit.

Steiner gave Gov. Brian Kemp a tour of the facility on Tuesday.

“These are today’s heroes, and I know Georgians appreciate that,” Kemp said after looking over the Phoebe North facility. “I know that I do. My wife Marty and my family does as well, because we know how hard this has been on everybody, no matter what part of the state you’re in. It’s certainly been harder than most right here in Albany and southwest Georgia.”

Steiner said he was impressed with the finished product and the short period of time it took to construct the facility.

“It’s amazing how quickly this project came together,” the Phoebe Health System CEO said. “When you’re inside the facility, you have no idea that it’s not a typical hospital.

”We appreciate the state’s support throughout our COVID-19 response, particularly their assistance with staffing increases that will allow us to bring this facility online. We are proud to partner with Gov. Kemp and state agencies, not only on this modular hospital project, but with other efforts to expand our region’s COVID-19 treatment capabilities.”

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