When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, having access to a hospital that prioritizes patient safety is critical. Colquitt Regional has worked throughout the pandemic to ensure that their staff is well-equipped and prepared to meet the rising needs associated with COVID-19, through various training, education, and safety protocols put in place.
Dr. Joel Lopes, Jr., one of the physicians who has been serving on the frontline, brings over 30 years of experience to Colquitt Regional. Lopes, who moved to Moultrie after serving at Boston Medical Center, is now chief of anesthesiology and has extensive experience in trauma, critical care, anesthesia, and working in the Intensive Care Unit.
As an anesthesiologist, Lopes’s primary role involves much more than simply sedating a patient during surgery. Along with administering anesthesia, he is also involved in evaluating patients to ensure that their medical condition is optimal during surgical procedures, evaluating medical charts, and generally making sure the patient’s history is clear for surgery.
Lopes is also a part of the Colquitt Regional Critical Care team, which consists of four physicians who are board certified in critical care. This team intervenes in the most care of the most critically ill patients in an attempt to stabilize the patient’s condition.
“The critical care team works with ICU nurses when patients are admitted to the unit,” Lopes said. “At that point, we engage in their care and reach out to our colleagues in other hospital departments that may need to assist us in managing a patient’s medical issues.”
This team has been actively involved in managing the current pandemic as many COVID-19 patients find themselves needing critical care. In addition to fully staffing the ICU during the pandemic, the hospital has implemented various safety measures such as screenings, thorough and routine sanitization, and requiring all hospital employees and visitors to wear masks. Colquitt Regional also created separate emergency departments and ICUs dedicated to COVID-19 and Non-COVID-19 patients.
“We have also identified a particular operation room for COVID-19 positive patients so that we can protect them and the hospital staff,” Lopes said. “We looked at ways to decrease the number of people in the room so we could minimize the risk of exposure to staff. Communication becomes even more important in these situations, so as a team we constantly communicated with each other and shared information to keep our patients and staff as safe as possible.”
Lopes explained that although it was challenging to find the appropriate methods in such a short time frame, looking at successful protocols put in place by other physicians and institutions helped in his team’s decision-making process.
“There are some institutions that have set up protocols for these things, so I can tell you that we were pulling those protocols and looking at what would be the best fit for Colquitt Regional and what would benefit the patients,” Lopes said. “We tried to learn from each other as we were walking through this process.”
When it comes to admitting patients to the ICU who may have COVID-19, Lopes said that the department does not hesitate to help those who need intensive care, whether they test positive for the virus or not.
“Today, hospitals have access to rapid COVID-19 tests and can know in 30-45 minutes if a patient is positive,” said Lopes. “However, when the virus hit South Georgia in March, that was not the case. It took days to get test results back. During that time, anyone who had symptoms that could be related to COVID-19 had to be treated as though they were positive. That is one of the main reasons PPE was in such high demand during that time.”
Lopes believes that Colquitt Regional and its critical care team have handled this pandemic well. He said that as a whole the hospital staff adapted to the situation at hand quickly, from administering masks and gloves to social distancing. One aspect that Lopes reflected on was the incredible integrity and heroism the ICU nurses have shown during this difficult time.
Several weeks ago, Lopes said that four COVID-19 positive patients coded at the same time. Lopes was on call, and when he got there, he was amazed by the action the nurses took that night.
“Despite us not knowing what would work at that point, and recognizing that we still don’t have a cure, our nurses jumped into action and did everything that they possibly could in spite of potential exposure,” Lopes said. “It was just amazing to be a part of that experience.”
From talking with Lopes, it is apparent that COVID-19 has been a stressor for those who work in healthcare. However, there have been uplifting moments as well, such as celebrating the recovery of patients and the relationships within the hospital that have been strengthened as a result of working side-by-side through this pandemic.
Written by: Alex Dunn