Sheriff questions hospital response as deputy quarantined
By Sarah Cavacini and Wayne Smith
Palatka Daily News
An emergency room physician at Putnam Community Medical Center tested positive for coronavirus, Putnam County Sheriff Gator DeLoach confirmed Tuesday.
This individual is the first of two cases reported in the county as of Tuesday evening. The announcement of the person’s positive test was made March 20. Verification that the person was a physician at the hospital did not come until Tuesday afternoon.
“I share the community’s frustration with the lack of preparedness and response by the hospital,” DeLoach said in a video posted by the Sheriff’s Office.
He said this case affects him personally because a sheriff’s office deputy had to be quarantined after coming into contact with the physician.
“I assure you we’re taking the appropriate actions and moving forward in our response to COVID-19,” DeLoach said.
He said the Putnam County call center is still open 8:00 a.m. – 5:00p.m. Monday through Friday and officials are answering calls at 329-1904.
“We’re still responding to calls for service with the same vigor we always have and are still protecting our community and will not go home until the job is done,” DeLoach said.
Putnam Community CEO Mark Dooley said he was not contacted by anyone outside the Department of Health.
“After seeing the video, I am very disappointed in some of the comments that were made,” Dooley said. “I have not been contacted by anyone directly to discuss our preparedness and actions outside of the Department of Health, and I would have been happy to have that conversation. These comments send the wrong message to the public, and it is not something we have taken lightly in any way.
“Our hospital has prepared well and we acted accordingly once we discovered a provider was symptomatic. These are unprecedented times for all of us, and it is incumbent on all community leaders to work together in combating this pandemic.”
Board Chairwoman Deborah Strickland said she was “surprised and disappointed by Sheriff DeLoach’s emotional and divisive remarks.”
“I have the utmost respect for and confidence in the leadership, associates, clinicians and providers of Putnam Community Medical Center,” Strickland said. “PCMC has strong protocols in place and has and will continue to follow the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease and Control, as well as work closely with our local Health Department, to ensure we provide the best care possible in a safe environment.”
The number of people tested for the virus in Putnam County rose to 120 by Tuesday evening, according to the Department of Health in Putnam County. This includes the two positive tests, 83 negative and 35 pending results.
“Given the circumstances, everyone has finally grasped the seriousness of this pandemic,” DeLoach said. “People are looking for some guidance as to when we can return to a sense of normalcy. And the unfortunate reality of it is we collectively just don’t know when that’s going to be.”
County Commission Chairman Terry Turner also addressed the community in the video with DeLoach and encouraged residents to avoid public places.
“You’re much safer at home,” Turner said.
Turner said all county offices and public library branches were closed until further notice. Residents can still reach these offices by phone or website, Turner said.
“We’re also assisting with unexpected requests from Putnam Community Medical Center for additional personal protective equipment,” he said.
Dooley said the case related to Putnam Community is a “rapidly evolving situation” and the hospital is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Dooley said he is working closely with the Department of Health.
“Upon presenting symptoms, this individual was removed from providing care at the facility,” Dooley said in an email. “We activated CDC protocols and worked with the health department who notified individuals, both internally and externally, who may have had exposure and provided further instruction based on the individual’s circumstances.”
Federal law restricts the release of medical information and the name of the individual.
A report from floridadisaster.org, a sub site of the Florida Department of Health, stated the two cases in Putnam County came from Palatka and Interlachen.
The cases were not more specific than reporting one case was an 82-year-old female and one was a 67-year-old male.
“Earlier this month, we limited entry into our facility so we can screen patients and visitors as they enter in order to help protect everyone in our hospital,” Dooley said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis asked President Donald Trump to declare Florida a disaster area, saying the coronavirus outbreak is having a “drastic effect” on the state’s economy and medical providers.
DeSantis wrote in a letter to Trump released late Monday that Florida’s “hospitals, medical facilities, and first responders are facing challenges rarely experienced before.” and the state has already spent $208 million on related unemployment assistance, food stamps, disaster loans and mental health counseling.
Florida cases grew to 1,467 Tuesday with 20 reported deaths.