Local health experts warn that hospital surges on the Front Range could impact Summit County | SummitDaily.com

Local health experts warn that hospital surges on the Front Range could impact Summit County

Public health director: ‘We’re all part of a larger hospital system’

St. Anthony Summit Hospital Pharmacy Manager Brent Morris accepts 180 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from a courier Dec. 16, 2020. The Frisco hospital is currently preparing for the possibility of not being able to transfer certain patients due to a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations around the state, especially on the Front Range.
St. Anthony Summit Medical Center/Courtesy photo

State and local leaders are sounding the alarm: Colorado’s rise in hospitalizations across the state is causing concern ahead of the holiday season.

The beginning of November marked an increase in public officials’ worry about hospitalizations and case rates. On Nov. 5, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released a public health advisory for the metro Denver region. The same day, it sent out a warning that the state’s epidemic curve was rising sharply.

That’s when the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations reached 1,280, which marked an all-time high since December 2020. As of Wednesday, Nov. 10, hospitalizations had increased to 1,492.

For this reason, the state issued a public health advisory as hospitals on the Front Range struggle to keep up with an influx of patients. A news release from the department said “hospitals serving metro Denver are full or nearing capacity due to both COVID-19, non-COVID-19 emergencies and other routine visits, with less than 10% of staffed beds available — a trend not seen at any other point in the pandemic.” Not only that, but “nearly 40% of hospitals report current or anticipated staff shortages within the next week.”

In response, the state activated crisis standards of care Nov. 9, which essentially gives guidelines for how the medical community should allocate scarce resources, and in this case, it’s focusing on staffing. As hospitals on the Front Range try to keep up with the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, transfers from other hospitals around the state might not be accepted.

Closer to home, St. Anthony Summit Hospital in Frisco is not reaching surge capacity, but Dr. Rebecca Blackwell, director of medical affairs at the hospital, said it’s important that locals pay attention to what’s happening in Denver and that they do their part to keep the same from happening here. Blackwell explained that St. Anthony Summit Hospital typically transfers high-acuity patients down to hospitals on the Front Range, especially those with respiratory problems.

“It also means here at (St. Anthony) Summit Hospital, we may be keeping sicker patients than we would typically treat that we’d typically transfer down to lower altitudes or hospitals within the metro area,” Blackwell said.

To prepare for if this happens, Blackwell said the hospital has cross-trained its staff so that it can provide care to patients for as long as they’d need to keep them in the High Country. For patients who are severely sick, Blackwell said they’d still rely on transfers.

“Ultimately, it means we may be keeping patients who are sicker than we would typically keep, but we wouldn’t keep a patient for whom we don’t have the appropriate skill set, so patients will still be getting high-quality care,” she said.

During a Nov. 2 press conference, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, predicted that the rise in hospitalizations could make things worse on health systems. During the conference, Herlihy projected that the state’s hospitalizations could hover around 1,500.

Herlihy warned that if fewer masks are worn and more individuals host indoor gatherings, it could further exacerbate the state’s hospitalization trajectory, putting that number close to 1,900.

“To put this in perspective, based on the current number of beds we have available in Colorado plus the number of patients that are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, we think that maximum capacity is probably around 2,000, meaning if we see a worsening of transmission control in the state, that could certainly significantly hamper our health care systems’ ability to care for our most severely ill patients,” Herlihy said at the conference.

Locally, Summit County is holding steady with very few hospitalizations, but even still, its incidence rate is climbing. According to the county’s dashboard, its daily average incidence rate for the past seven days is about 316 cases per 100,000 people. Its daily average incidence rate for the past 28 days is 241 cases per 100,000 people.

Amy Wineland, Summit County Director of Public Health, noted that the county does not exist in a bubble and that what’s happening elsewhere in the state could very well become a reality locally, especially if the community’s case rate remains high.

“I think it’s really important to understand that we’re all part of a larger hospital system, and we are seeing that though our hospital continues to have a lot of capacity, it’s possible that we may start seeing that impact here if other hospitals aren’t able to take transfers,” Wineland said.

On Nov. 10, the county issued a public health advisory and suggested community members to wear a mask in crowded indoor settings regardless of vaccination status, move their public gatherings outdoors when possible, get tested when sick and get a flu shot.

The advisory also stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and that all individuals 18 and older should get a booster dose.

It seems like community members are listening. On Monday, Nov. 8, the Colorado Department of Public Health sent a bus to Summit County to host a vaccine clinic that usually can accept around 200 appointments. Because of a glitch in the system, over 700 appointments were made, and though everyone couldn’t be vaccinated, Wineland said this show of enthusiasm to get vaccinated and receive boosters was encouraging.

The mistake in scheduling has since been fixed, and Wineland said it’s still easy to get a vaccine. Most clinics require appointments, and all of these can be found on the county’s website by visiting SummitCountyCo.gov/1423/scheduling-vaccinations.

Taylor Sienkiewicz/Summit Daily News
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