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Hospital CMO reflects, looking towards future

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    Doug Brewer

Atrium Health Navicent Health Baldwin was stressed, strained and stretched incredibly thin.

A total of 92 patients, roughly 40 percent with a COVID-19 diagnosis, were being treated in a facility designed and staffed for 52. The ICU was full, its nurse-to-patient ratio 1-to-4, a nightmare scenario for any ICU at any hospital. A total of 25 patients were being treated in an emergency room that only had 22 beds. Nursing administrators were doubling as shift nurses.

This was the scene on a particular day back in January, when the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was at its worst here in Baldwin County. Now, two-plus months later, that “controlled chaos is finally over,” and employees can finally begin to breathe again, according to Doug Brewer, the facility’s chief medical officer. As of last week, the local ICU was running at roughly 60 percent capacity and back to the standard 1-to-2 nurse-to-patient ratio. None of those ICU patients were COVID patients, according to the Health & Human Services database. Other parts of the hospital also were returning to a sense of normalcy, Brewer added.

“All of the data has improved, and it’s all because of the heroics of our team members stepping up, and I’m just really appreciative,” Brewer told The Baldwin Bulletin during a wide-ranging interview. “I never questioned that we could do it. We have such an amazing team.”

At this point, with the understanding that the pandemic is far from over, Brewer said that hospital administrators are beginning to look forward to the future, as opposed to “just making it through the day.” A big part of that is getting back to other services, such as surgeries, tests and other procedures.

“We can’t continue putting off healthcare,” he said. “So much of that has been sacrificed (during the pandemic).”

The median census count in 2019 at Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin was 28, which “is unacceptable,” according to Brewer, who took over as the hospital’s chief medical officer in early 2020.

“This means that were were not servicing the community very well and that there were people going elsewhere,” he said, adding that he hopes to eventually grow the median census count to 50-55 once the pandemic is over. “We need to use (the pandemic) as a springboard to understand how we can serve the community better and get them the care that they need. That should be part of our mission.”