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DENVER (KDVR) — As Denver’s second COVID-19 surge sends hospitals scrambling to find room for ICU patients, case managers become only more critical, serving as conduits between patients and loved ones.

Sky Ridge Medical Center, calls them the “unsung heroes” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have never been in a situation before where we had patients that we are caring for, that aren’t allowed to have loved ones visit,” said Allison Rolsten, a social worker and case manager at the ICU at Sky Ridge. “We used to have families at bedside all the time and we would be able to walk through the unit and visit with families and visit with patients and reassure them of what’s happening.”

Before COVID-19, it was the job of case managers and social workers to prepare ICU patients for their next step of care, whether that was in a different department of the medical facility or sending them back home.

Today, they’ve taken on a new role as messenger between all patients and families, who otherwise could go weeks without hearing or seeing each other due to the strict no visitation rules at hospitals throughout Denver.

“It’s devastating to family members to think they have a loved one here that’s critically ill and knowing their loved one is here alone,” said Rolsten. “It’s is really difficult for them.”

Without being able to physically check-in with their family, case managers find themselves sending messages of hope and clarity to those eagerly awaiting patient status updates. They also can answer questions that a physician might not have time to elaborate on.

“One of the things that a case manager gets really good at is filling in and supporting the message from the physician, often families have a lot of questions especially after they process what they heard,” said Rolsten. “It’s been a really important part of the back-and-forth information and being that conduit.” 

At the start of the pandemic the majority of COVID-19 patients in the ICU were Latino men that only spoke Spanish according to Rolsten. She had her son, who is taking Spanish in high school, help her brush up on terms to convey messages back to their families, since the patients were not able to themselves.

“One patient had nine grandchildren calling my cell phone and recording voice messages to grandpa, telling them they loved him and hoping he would get better,” said Rolsten. “When he understood he was in the hospital, we were playing his grandchildren’s messages to him to give him reassurance.”