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For healthcare 'heroes,' death toll keeps rising

Alan Judd, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Health & Fitness

In Georgia, the Department of Public Health says more than 13,000 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19, about 6% of all positive cases statewide. As of Friday, the agency had counted 75 deaths. But inconsistent reporting by doctors, coroners and others may undermine those statistics. Some who file communicable-disease reports list only licensed medical professionals as health care workers, excluding those who clean the rooms of coronavirus patients, serve their meals and shuttle them to X-rays and other diagnostic tests.

The Journal-Constitution analyzed a government database of death certificates and examined other public sources, identifying 98 Georgia healthcare workers and support staff who died from the coronavirus, 23 more than acknowledged by the public health agency.

These workers included a hospital-based physical therapist, patient-care aides in nursing homes, and home-health assistants; a cardiac catheterization technician, hospital security officers, and maintenance workers; a medical-transportation driver, private-duty nurses, and two physicians: Dr. John D. Marshall Jr., 74, of Americus and Dr. Frank Lockwood, who practiced in McDonough.

Deborah Stevers, 61, was a nurse at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. Billy Joe Gilbert, 78, was a respiratory therapist at Wellstar Paulding Hospital in Hiram. Shameaka Montgomery, 39, was a nursing assistant at Tanner Medical Center in Carrollton.

Montgomery died on May 8, two weeks after she contracted COVID-19, according to her death certificate. In mid-March, as the pandemic intensified, a friend wrote to her on Facebook, "Be careful."

Montgomery updated her profile picture the same day with a pandemic-era template: "I can't stay home," it said. "I'm a healthcare worker!"

 

Every evening for months, David Plater and his wife, Kim, talked about how to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

Like her husband, Kim Plater is a radiology technician, and they swapped safety tips from their jobs -- his at Emory Hillandale and hers at Grady Memorial Hospital. At David's suggestion, Kim began washing her work clothes the minute she got home from a shift to avoid spreading the virus in their house.

"We knew the risks," Kim said recently. "We knew what could happen."

David was particularly vulnerable. Diagnosed with end-stage renal disease, or kidney failure, he had undergone dialysis three times a week since 2017. The treatments compromised his immune system, weakening his body's natural defenses against infection.

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