St. Anthony Summit Medical Center sees about half its normal patient load as it readies for increase in COVID-19 cases

The sign at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco on March 17.
Liz Copan /

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the attribution on a quote about when people should and should not go to the hospital.

FRISCO — St. Anthony Summit Medical Center emergency department medical director Dr. Marc Doucette said he hasn’t seen anything like the current health crisis in his 15 years of experience at the local hospital.

While the hospital braces for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases, Doucette reported that patient numbers have dropped significantly below what’s normal this time of year. In the emergency room, patient numbers are down about 50%, something Doucette attributed to the closure of ski areas. In a typical March, the hospital sees an influx of visitors with ski injuries and altitude sickness. With the visitors gone, the hospital is mainly serving local patients. It also has canceled all elective surgeries.

“We have been seeing patients with mild symptoms and some with more severe symptoms of respiratory illness, but we’ve also been seeing other patients with routine complaints that we would otherwise typically see in the emergency department,” Doucette said. 

While some hospitals across the country struggle to keep up with demand, Doucette said St. Anthony’s has not yet had any staffing or supply shortages. As for personal protective equipment for hospital staff, Doucette said the hospital is adequately supplied with masks, battery-powered respirators and hospital gowns.

Hospital spokesman Brent Boyer said the facility is a 35-bed, level 3 trauma center that typically houses 10 standard isolation rooms. However, Boyer wrote in an email that the number of available isolation rooms has been more than doubled in response to the pandemic.

Doucette said there have been no shortages of isolation rooms or ventilators because people who are ill enough to need a ventilator are typically transferred to Denver. 

“We have had several cases of patients, especially elderly patients, who have become critically ill,” Doucette said. “Our critically ill patients that require intubation or ventilation on a ventilator or have very low oxygen levels, we are typically transferring to one of our partner facilities in the Denver area both to get them out of the high elevation and to facilitate a higher level of care in the ICU at a major hospital in Denver.”

How To Help

The hospital is accepting donations of the following items:

  • Boxed masks and N95 respirators
  • Gloves that are still in manufacturer packaging
  • Packaged gowns or rain ponchos with sleeves
  • Face shields with eye protection that are labeled for surgical, isolation, dental or medical procedures

These items can be donated outside the front entrance of the hospital from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Homemade masks are not being accepted.

As the COVID-19 disease spreads, testing for the virus is limited to first responders, health care providers and severely ill patients. Doucette said the hospital is only testing patients who have been admitted because their symptoms are serious or critical. Outpatients and patients who have mild symptoms are not being tested. 

Doucette added that the emergency department is not the appropriate place to go if you have mild symptoms and are worried you might have COVID-19. 

“If you suspect that you might be sick, and you have only mild symptoms or no symptoms, the best thing for you to do and the correct protocol at this point is to stay home and to self-isolate. … If you are feeling worse, if you are getting short of breath, chest pain, other worsening symptoms, we do want you to come in and be seen. We want patients to call ahead if they are concerned that they have COVID and they are coming in to see us so we can be prepared to meet them and wear the appropriate equipment,” Doucette said.

The new blood tests for COVID-19 that provide quicker results are not yet available to St. Anthony’s, but the hospital is exploring private testing options.

“We do anticipate and are seeing that the ability to test patients is increasing significantly statewide as private labs are starting to perform tests, so the ability to test on a more widespread basis may become available in the short-term,” Doucette said. 

As part of the hospital’s preparation, Doucette said staff members are being cross-trained to prepare for a potential staffing shortage in the event the outbreak worsens. He said the need to quarantine hospital staff has been a “minimal” problem, with most providers staying healthy and no one on staff becoming critically ill. Doucette added that, to his knowledge, no health care workers at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19. 

A Flight For Life helicopter behind St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco on March 17.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

Across the Centura Health system, there have been several caregivers who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation at home, according to an email from Boyer. He said those caregivers will be required to be cleared by the occupational health team before returning to work.

“Overall, we are pretty comfortable,” Doucette said about how the staff is dealing with fears about the virus. “We’re well-trained. We’re well-equipped. Everybody has been fabulous at stepping up and pitching in, but I have to think — just like with anybody in the community or especially in the health care workforce — there’s certainly some level of anxiety on a greater level with the epidemic and with the real concern that becoming ill is … a possibility.”

Doucette said the hospital continues to serve patients who have injuries or illnesses that are unrelated to the new virus.

“We want the community to know that we are prepared,” Doucette said.

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