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Phoebe Prepares Now for Future Availability of COVID-19 Vaccine

Albany, Ga. – Phoebe hopes to use its annual influenza vaccination program for employees as a trial run to ensure efficient delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations once a vaccine for the virus is approved and distributed.  “We normally provide flu vaccines over a period of a couple of months to our nearly 5,000 members of the Phoebe Family.  This year, we will condense that time frame significantly,” Scott Steiner, Phoebe Putney Health System (PPHS) Pres. & CEO told Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital (PPMH) board members Wednesday.  “It’s an opportunity to stress our system, so we can learn what our weaknesses are.  When we get an allotment of COVID-19 vaccines, we’ll be better prepared to administer them quickly to our healthcare workers and the community.  I’m excited about that project and what’s possible,” Steiner added.

Multiple potential vaccines are now being tested in human trials.  There is no timetable for when any vaccine may be approved and ready for wide distribution, but the National Governors Association has already sent guidance to governors to help states prepare for vaccine distribution.

During Wednesday’s meeting, PPMH CEO Joe Austin updated board members on the hospital’s COVID-19 fight.  “Southwest Georgia overall has really picked up.  We were ahead of the curve, but the rest of the hospitals in our area, unfortunately, have joined us in this battle,” Austin said.  “There’s a real concern about what could happen once schools start, but we’re doing everything we can to prepare.” 

Austin expressed optimism that the state’s new Georgia Coordinating Center (GCC) will benefit hospitals throughout the state.  All hospitals must report their bed status twice a day to the GCC, which will help coordinate efficient patient transfers when hospitals reach capacity.  Austin said Phoebe, and many other hospitals, are extremely busy right now treating COVID-19 and non-COVID patients.  “There was a major pent up demand for services following our COVID-19 peak, and all those patients are coming back.  We’re faced with caring for a very large and very sick patient population.  Our hospital is safe, and we’re glad our community feels safe coming back,” Austin said.

The PPMH Board also approved the fiscal year 2021 budget for the hospital.  The budget projects a slim 1% operating margin, and it pares down capital spending to around $20 million because of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and its impact in the coming year.  Capital projects include construction of a new hybrid operating suite, urgent care expansion and a major expansion for Phoebe Orthopaedics.  The budget also includes an average 3% compensation increase.  “Despite a challenging financial landscape, we have to reward our employees for the incredible work they have done throughout this pandemic, and our budget includes $4.6 million for performance-based merit increases and market adjustments,” said Brian Church PPHS Chief Financial Officer.

The board also received an update on community benefit implementation strategies.  PPMH’s current Community Health Needs Assessment identifies four priority areas:  cancer prevention and treatment, diabetes prevention and management, behavioral health and addiction disease advocacy, and improving birth outcomes.  Morehouse School of Medicine and Albany State University were recently awarded grants for three programs aimed at improving overall birth outcomes by preventing teen pregnancy, and Phoebe will work closely with them to implement those programs.  “Phoebe has had tremendous success in reducing the number of teen pregnancies in our area, and these grants enhance our ability to collaborate with community partners to continue that trend and improve the health of people in our region,” said Lori Jenkins Phoebe Director of Strategy and Planning.

Phoebe’s Network of Trust has led programs that have contributed to a 73% decrease in the teen pregnancy rate in Dougherty County since 1994.