‘Closing a chapter’: Taylor County hospital has zero COVID patients

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 8:27 PM EDT
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PERRY, Fla. (WCTV) - Positivity rates in Taylor County have dropped from 30% to 10%, allowing hospital staff to finally sigh a breath of relief.

A month ago, Chris Schmidt, CEO of Doctors’ Memorial hospital, was scrubbing in to work in the COVID unit.

At that time, its COVID unit was at full capacity.

Now, the hospital has turned a corner.

Last month, it closed its COVID unit, and on Thursday, it had zero COVID patients.

The hospital has had only a few COVID patients in the last several days and no deaths recorded last week.

In the last few months, the rural hospital had more than 20 COVID-related deaths, which in a community this small, is significant.

“We’ve never seen anything like that,” Sara Grambling, VP of operations, said. “That was new to us. And so as tough as medical professionals can be, we’re still people.”

Now that cases are declining, staff are grappling with the trauma of what they endured.

“This was a different kind of devastating,” Sarah Cayson, director of healthcare quality, said. “These patients were with us for a long period of time. And if they weren’t family or coworkers that we knew personally when they came in, they were when they left.”

Some patients stayed in the COVID unit as long as 28 days.

“And then to lose them is just devastating,” Cayson said.

Back in August, Cayson transitioned from her role as director of healthcare quality to serving as a bedside nurse in the COVID unit, often working 60 hour weeks.

“A lot of patients came through here,” she said. “Not as many as went through TMH or another facility, but for us in this small community, a lot of patients we were able to take care of here.”

Now, staff hope this is the final chapter in their COVID story.

“I was the last one in the unit that day,” Schmidt said. “And I actually locked the doors and closed the unit. And it felt very much like closing a chapter of a book. The nice thing is we’re ready to go should it happen again.”

Staff also said they could not have responded to the COVID crisis as well as they did without the support of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, which partners with Doctors’ Memorial to provide additional resources and staff.

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