May 25—Anniston's Regional Medical Center released its only remaining COVID-19 patient Tuesday afternoon, the first time the hospital has been free of coronavirus patients in a year.
"It's a good day," said Louis Bass, CEO of the hospital.
The release of that patient marks a quiet milestone for the hospital, which a little over a year ago was searching for a way to accommodate the large patient loads from a virus few local people had encountered before. In March of 2020, RMC and its sister hospital, Stringfellow, had 24 intensive care beds between them, and doctors were working frantically to find more space and ventilators for an expected crush of patients.
By January, the hospital had more than 80 coronavirus patients in three COVID wards. Around 14,000 people in Calhoun County have been infected since the pandemic began, and 323 have died.
The vaccination campaign begun earlier this year has turned those numbers around. Alabama lags behind most states in its vaccination campaign, but roughly 25 percent of people in Calhoun County above age 16 have had a full round of vaccine, according to state numbers.
Hospital officials have been waiting for some time for the COVID wards to empty completely. Bass said that in recent weeks, the hospital typically had three or four coronavirus patients at a time, then the number dwindled to one.
That patient didn't want to speak to the press, Bass said. That's a change from the last time the hospital was free of COVID patients, back in May 2020. Back then, local COVID numbers were low, the course of the disease was a mystery to most people and patients were sometimes discharged with a hero's sendoff — sometimes leaving the hospital in an ambulance to spend still more time in a long-term care facility.
Asked about the hospital's next step, Bass said RMC is still moving forward with its vaccination campaign.
"We're trying to do as many vaccinations as we can," he said. "Now that there's more vaccine in the community, the problem is finding more people who want it."
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.