Nichols provides EAMC update

Published 7:45 am Wednesday, April 22, 2020

LaFAYETTE — With more than 250 positive tests and 15 deaths thus far, Chambers County has been hard hit by the coronavirus, especially for an area with only 34,000 people.

EAMC-Lanier Administrator Greg Nichols talked about the local impact of COVID-19 at Monday afternoon’s meeting of the Chambers County Commission. The meeting was a virtual one with each person taking part from a remote location.

Nichols said there was a period from March 26 through April 9 that there was genuine concern that the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) could be overrun with COVID-19 cases but that it has leveled off since then.

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“Social distancing has made a difference,’ he said. “Since April 10, the ICU cases have been declining at both EAMC-Lanier and EAMC in Opelika. We feel good about those numbers dropping.”

The most serious cases are those who are on ventilators. That number peaked at 22 in early April. It’s now down to 8-10 per day and on the decline. Nichols said the hospital has 20 standard ventilators and could have handled up to 40 patients.

“I am glad it never got there,” he said. “We do have challenges ahead. This is not over.”

EAMC-Lanier has peaked at 19 COVID-19 cases. That number is down to nine.

Nichols said that he and other health officials are looking at trends in the modeling that’s taking place. He said that none of the models are entirely accurate but that they can serve as useful guides.

Nichols said that he expects the numbers to continue to decline as long as everyone continues to practice social distancing. He said that he was in favor of reopening the economy but that some degree of caution is needed. This involves continued hand washing, social distancing and avoiding crowds.

“If we open up too soon and don’t maintain social distancing, those numbers could go back up,” he said.

The crisis did produce a local heroine — an 88-year-old woman who’s now doing well despite having at one point been positive for COVID-19 and two types of influenza. By any standard, her survival is a miracle. The entire hospital staff has come to love and admire this woman named Myrtis, who would not give in despite being afflicted by three known killers of the elderly. When she was released from the hospital to the EAMC-Lanier Nursing Home, she was greeted with loud applause and cheering from the hospital staff, every one elated she had made it through.

“She’s doing well now,” Nichols said.

Nichols expressed his appreciation to Chambers County residents on having passed property tax increases some six years ago that played a big part in keeping the hospital going. The affiliation with the East Alabama Medical Center is another crucial factor in Chambers County continuing to have a local hospital. Since the approval of the referendum, the hospital has received more than $9.4 million.

“It has been a great resource for us,” Nichols said. “It has helped us getting new equipment and in replacing equipment.”

In recent years, EAMC-Lanier has gotten over $7.8 million in new equipment and has undergone a three-year, $7.3 million upgrade in its electronic record keeping. Nichols said that upgrade has been especially beneficial to primary care physicians.

“It’s much easier for them to see what a patient has gone through over a period of years,” he said. “It’s much easier to share information than it used to be.”

EAMC-Lanier is focusing on three future projects: (1) an ambulatory service center, (2) a geriatric psych unit and (3) a renovation of the EAMC-Lanier Nursing Home and kitchen. What needs to be done for an ambulatory service center will cost a little over $60,000, the geriatric psych unit will cost $1,5 million and the nursing home and kitchen upgrades will cost $2.7 million.

“Our residents deserve the very best,” Nichols said. “We are ready to submit this for state review.”

In the regular meeting, the commission approved an expenditure of $7,532.14 for the Chambers County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) from its public safety fund and approved a project agreement and a tax abatement for John Soules Foods. The commission also authorized County Engineer Josh Harvill to execute an agreement with Long Engineering, Inc. to design the abutment/substructure for a 144-foot-long bridge to be built over the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks near Waverly and to execute a reimbursable utility agreement with the City of Lanett and the Alabama Department of Transportation on the relocation of a natural gas line along Phillips Road and Cusseta Road in Huguley. The gas line needs to be relocated as part of the Phillips Rod widening project.