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Central Georgia's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports, and more | Macon, Georgia | 13WMAZ.com

'Intentional omission': Houston Healthcare ducks questions about COVID-19 testing

The health system won't say how many patients have been tested or hospitalized

HOUSTON COUNTY, Ga. — Houston County now has 9 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health.

It also has one death -- a Little League umpire who died while being treated for COVID-19 this week.

Many of you have asked about COVID-19 testing in Houston County.

Houston Healthcare, the county's largest medical provider, refused to answer many of the  basic questions 13WMAZ asked them.

We requested they release the number of people who have been tested by Houston Healthcare for COVID-19, the number of those tests that came back negative and positive, and the number of people who are hospitalized there with COVID-19--among other basic statistics.

Our full list of questions emailed to Houston Healthcare is copied, verbatim, below. The questions that were not answered are in bold.

  • The number of people tested for COVID-19 by Houston Healthcare
  • Total number of positive results from Houston Healthcare COVID-19 tests
  • Total number of positive COVID-19 inpatients at Houston Healthcare
  • Total number of positive COVID-19 outpatients who have been tested by Houston Healthcare
  • Total number of negative results from Houston Healthcare COVID-19 tests
  • Total number of Houston Healthcare inpatients awaiting results from a COVID-19 test
  • Total number of patients under Houston Healthcare care awaiting results from a COVID-19 test at home
  • Total number of pending COVID-19 test results for people tested by or under the care of Houston Healthcare
  • The number of available Houston Healthcare ICU beds vs. the total number of Houston Healthcare ICU beds.
  • The number of available Houston Healthcare ventilators vs. the total number of Houston Healthcare ventilators
  • The number of N95 respirator masks that are available at Houston Healthcare
    • How many days will that last you?
    • Are staff having to reuse them at this point?
  • What elective surgeries are currently being performed at Houston Healthcare? Why? How many per day?
  • Where are overflow care areas being prepared?
  • When and where can auxiliary testing sites be expected?

Houston Healthcare's response ignored many of those questions altogether. Spokesman Kevin Rowley called it an "intentional omission" to protect patient privacy.

Houston Healthcare did not explain how anonymous testing statistics could be used to identify individual patients.

Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany, one of the hardest hit areas by the novel coronavirus in our state, voluntarily releases much of that testing information daily.

Coliseum Health System and Fairview Park Hospital also answered many of those questions when we asked.

Click here to see Coliseum's answers.

Click here to see Fairview Park's answers.

Houston Healthcare would not say how many people it has tested.

It would not provide the number of positive and negative results.

It would not say how many people have been hospitalized.

Their response did acknowledge they have some inpatients awaiting COVID-19 test results, but it did not specify how many.

"We will not be providing the exact number, but we do have inpatients currently awaiting results," the response from hospital spokesperson Kevin Rowley said. "This number will change often and we will not be giving daily updates."

Houston Healthcare also would not say how many ICU beds were currently available, only how many total were in the health system.

"Houston Healthcare has 21 total ICU beds. We are planning for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients and could add more, but we are not seeing it yet. Our census is constantly changing with admissions and discharges. We are not going to be giving daily updates," they said.

They gave a nearly identical answer when we asked for the number of available ventilators.

"Houston Healthcare has 26 total ventilators; due to constantly changing admissions and discharges the number available at any given time fluctuates," the release said.

Houston Healthcare did not respond at all to our question about how many N95 masks they currently have available and how long that supply is expected to last.

Those masks are used to protect health care workers as they treat patients. They are in short supply around the country.

Houston Healthcare did say some elective surgeries are being postponed, but did not specify how many.

"Case-by-case decisions are being made by our physicians," they said. "They are best able to determine any risk posed by delaying surgery for an open-ended, unknown amount of time. The goal is to balance the short and long-term health of our patients while preserving personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients."

The health system also refused to say whether any additional testing sites would be created.

13WMAZ's full email to Houston Healthcare is copied below.

Hey Kevin,

Left you a voicemail a moment ago about this, but wanted to get these questions over to you ASAP so you have ample time to respond.

As the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases across our region continues to grow, we’re reaching out to many Central Georgia hospitals today with questions about COVID-19 testing, PPE supply levels, and other related topics.

We’ll be airing the story, in some capacity, tonight. Deadline to get this information back to me is 3:30 P.M. That’s the latest I can go and still have time to include it in a broadcast at 5. Anything you get back to us after that deadline is, of course, welcomed and encouraged. I just can’t guarantee it will make it on air after that point. We will, however, make sure that information gets added to the web story as we receive it.

As always, please don’t hesitate to call or email with any questions!

Our list of questions is below. Could you please provide us with the following information?

Please note, when we say “Houston Healthcare,” we’re referring to ALL healthcare facilities within the Houston Healthcare system, not just Houston Medical Center.

  • The number of people tested for COVID-19 by Houston Healthcare
  • Total number of positive results from Houston Healthcare COVID-19 tests
  • Total number of positive COVID-19 inpatients at Houston Healthcare
  • Total number of positive COVID-19 outpatients who have been tested by Houston Healthcare
  • Total number of negative results from Houston Healthcare COVID-19 tests
  • Total number of Houston Healthcare inpatients awaiting results from a COVID-19 test
  • Total number of patients under Houston Healthcare care awaiting results from a COVID-19 test at home
  • Total number of pending COVID-19 test results for people tested by or under the care of Houston Healthcare
  • The number of available Houston Healthcare ICU beds vs. the total number of Houston Healthcare ICU beds.
  • The number of available Houston Healthcare ventilators vs. the total number of Houston Healthcare ventilators
  • The number of N95 respirator masks that are available at Houston Healthcare
    • How many days will that last you?
    • Are staff having to reuse them at this point?
  • What elective surgeries are currently being performed at Houston Healthcare? Why? How many per day?
  • Where are overflow care areas being prepared?
  • When and where can auxiliary testing sites be expected?

Houston Healthcare's full response is below:

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FACTS NOT FEAR | At 13WMAZ, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the coronavirus. To see our full coverage, visit our site section here: www.13wmaz.com/Coronavirus.

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