In Colorado’s mountain towns, high altitude presents a unique challenge in treating coronavirus |

In Colorado’s mountain towns, high altitude presents a unique challenge in treating coronavirus

Hospitals in the high country are moving critically ill patients to lower elevations in hopes it eases their symptoms

Jessica Seaman
The Denver Post
Gunnison Valley Health staffers move a patient with COVID-19 who is being transported to a hospital at a lower elevation in Colorado.
Photo provided by a medical worker at Gunnison Valley Health

Hospitals in Colorado’s mountain communities are transporting critically ill patients — and in some cases those at risk of becoming so sick — to facilities at lower elevations, hoping the move will ease their respiratory symptoms caused by the new coronavirus.

Medical facilities in Gunnison, Pitkin and Summit counties can treat patients with the new coronavirus, but have fewer intensive care beds, doctors, nurses and other resources. So they are moving patients who are on, or likely to need, ventilators to larger facilities that can provide a higher level of care for a longer period of time.

The doctors also hope that by going to lower altitudes, their patients will need less supplemental oxygen.

“We’re doing what we can to help with preparing to care for more ICU patients in the future, in the near future,” said Dr. Jason Hogan, emergency medicine physician at Gunnison Valley Health.

Within the past week, he has started experimenting with transporting patients from Gunnison, at an altitude of 7,700 feet, to hospitals with intensive care units in Montrose, at 5.800 feet, and Grand Junction, at 4,500 feet, as they start to require a significant amount of oxygen.

He started doing this after noticing that more than half of the people admitted eventually required ventilators, Hogan said, noting that patients start “behind the ball” on oxygen at higher altitudes.

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