TUSCALOOSA, AL — DCH Health System Vice President of Marketing and Communication Andy North caused ripples earlier this week after issuing a statement via Facebook addressing "mixed messages" as the system faces a sustained influx of new coronavirus patients, while also expressing the hospital's support for "civic measures to limit additional spread of the virus."
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"Rather than relying upon news stories (which often only present a small component of a larger sentiment), I thought I would share with you directly what we have been trying to share in the community," North wrote on Thursday.
North then included a verbatim quote published by Patch on Tuesday, citing the high patient load at present causing a "great deal of strain across the entire system." He went on to say that throughout the pandemic, DCH has reached out to both the community and its leaders for assistance, leading to help in the form of meals, masks, face shields, viral medium, hand sanitizer, gloves, sewing, signs, cards and more.
"DCH is focused on doing everything it can to maintain the needed care for the community and has continually advised leaders about the circumstances, including the current strain, so that they can make informed decisions about public policy," North said. "We are not in a position, nor is it our role, to make policy decisions for them."
As of Saturday, DCH reported 25 new coronavirus inpatients, bringing the system's total number of hospitalized patients testing positive for the virus to 168. Of the patients receiving treatment, 42 are currently in intensive care units, while 17 of those are on ventilators.
The hospital system, North said, has been in close contact with area leaders, advising them of the situation at hand. The current help expressly needed, though, centers on the hospital system's staff for patient care, he said, but underscored that DCH would support additional measures by local government leaders to combat the spreading of the virus.
The announcement did appear to come as some surprise to Tuscaloosa City Hall, which has maintained that while case numbers have risen to new highs in recent weeks due to the holidays, the hospital system has not requested any additional mandates or restrictions on local businesses to this point other than maintaining those currently in place.
In a statement provided to Patch, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said he was made aware of the Facebook post shortly after it was published and immediately reached out to DCH leadership. He then said a long conversation was had regarding the needs of the hospital system.
"I have been in weekly meetings with DCH’s leadership since the onset of the pandemic, and our Incident Command Team coordinates daily with Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robin Wilson," he said. "The city has worked to meet every request of DCH and will continue to support our frontline heroes. In [Thursday] night’s conversation, DCH indicated that although they are being stretched by inpatient COVID-19 numbers, they are able to provide for our community without any disruptions of elective surgeries or other significant modifications."
Maddox has often pointed to the status of elective surgeries as a kind of barometer for measuring the availability of private and semi-private rooms, thus informing the decisions of local leaders with respect to public health directives.
The mayor then said DCH reaffirmed its position that it would notify community leaders if its internal options for capacity, staffing and personal protective equipment were in danger of becoming compromised. He also said he spoke with Tuscaloosa County Commission Chair and Probate Judge Rob Robertson and would be in communication with Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon as the situation develops.