So far, the Denver area been spared the crush of patients that has overwhelmed New York hospitals, but hospitals and state officials are talking about ways to prepare for a surge, including sending Denver-area patients who are less seriously ill to rural hospitals that have bed space available.
Kevin Stansbury, CEO of Lincoln Community Hospital, said moving patients to hospitals on the Eastern Plains could “decompress” metro-area hospitals, which typically treat the sickest patients. Critically ill rural patients who need more specialized care would continue to be transferred to Denver, he said.
“That way, they’re receiving great care and not taking up a bed in the city,” he said.
So far, the state has counted 147 people hospitalized from COVID-19 in Colorado, though the number could be higher given almost a week passes between testing and results.
Julie Lonborg, senior vice president of the Colorado Hospital Association, said they’re still working out who would keep track of where beds are available and coordinate patient transfers. They hope to test the plan with a few recovering patients late this week or early next week, she said.
“We’re going to need more resources than any one community has,” she said.
Hospitals in Washington state reported that part of the capacity problem came from difficulty finding a place for patients who no longer needed critical care, but weren’t ready to go home, Lonborg said. Normally those patients could go to a skilled nursing or rehabilitation facility, but those facilities can’t take a patient who had COVID-19 until the patient tests negative, to protect their other residents, she said. Hospitals with extra space are one option for those patients to continue recovering once they’re no longer critically ill.
Free-standing emergency rooms and ambulatory surgical centers also could take some patients, Lonborg said.
“They’re ideally suited, because they have everything a person needs and they’re not busy,” she said.
Sarah Ellis, spokeswoman for SCL Health, said they aren’t receiving reports of substantially more cases of respiratory illness than normal. SCL owns Saint Joseph Hospital, and Good Samaritan, Lutheran and Platte Valley Medical Center.
Wendy Forbes, spokeswoman for Centura Health, said it’s difficult to tell if COVID-19 is having an impact, because hospitals would expect to still be dealing with the end of the cold and flu season, as well as the beginning of allergy season. Centura owns St. Anthony, Porter Adventist, Littleton Adventist, Parker Adventist, Avista Adventist, Castle Rock Adventist and Longmont United Hospital, as well as several other facilities.
“This time of year it is common to have a steady volume of respiratory patients and this year is no different,” she said. “The question still remains as to whether or not we would have seen a decline if COVID-19 hadn’t also occurred.”
How hard the hit to hospitals will be depends to some degree on how successful social distancing measures in the Denver area are. The goal of keeping people without symptoms at home as much as possible is to prevent new infections. The number of cases has continued to rise for about two weeks after social distancing measures were implemented in other countries, because most people who are infected don’t develop symptoms immediately. It’s likely the same will happen in Colorado, even if social distancing is effective.
If large numbers of people become seriously ill, beds could fill up quickly. The Post reported last week that based on the latest data, which is from 2015, fewer than 4,000 hospital beds are typically open statewide.
In addition to looking at transferring patients to hospitals with more capacity, state officials are studying whether they can repurpose empty buildings like dormitories, and working with communities to assess what resources they have and what they’ll need in the event of a surge.
“It is too early to know if the curve will flatten, so we are preparing for it to continue on an upward trajectory,” a CDPHE spokesperson said.
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