Hospitalizations soar, stretching Colorado medical workers thin

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — Hospitals across Colorado are facing unique challenges, as cases and hospitalizations soar to record numbers in the state.

“There’s a couple of patients in the emergency room, waiting to come in, and our hospital network is basically full,” said Aurora nurse Rachel Norton, speaking to the Problem Solvers during a short break in her 12-hour shift. “It was so exhausting the first time around that to kind of anticipate doing that again is hard to face.”

According to state data, there are 1,378 confirmed COVID-19 patients in Colorado hospitals. The number is more than 500 patients higher than the peak for patients in early April.

“We’re also taking in patients from out of state,” Norton said. “We’ve had a lot of requests from Wyoming, from the Dakotas.”

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data shows 84% of the state’s intensive care unit beds are currently in use, as hospitals get creative with opening up their own capacity with flexible beds, and moving certain patients out of the ICU.

“The goal is to really max space in hospitals that’s available,” said Cara Welch with the Colorado Hospital Association.

Welch says fewer COVID patients are requiring care in the ICU compared to the spring, and nurses like Norton say their knowledge of the virus is a tremendous asset for helping patients recover.

But another factor that is crowding hospitals more than what was happening in the spring: patients can still get elective surgeries.

“Finding spots for these people is going to be a challenge, whereas last time everything was shut down and we stopped doing elective surgery, so it was easier to house all the extra patients that we had,” Norton said.

Norton noted the psychological drain that goes with fighting a second wave of the virus. It’s a big concern for health care organizations statewide.

“Our health care work force is our top concern at the moment,” Welch said. “More of our health care workers are becoming sick themselves now, or they have family members that are sick and they’re having to quarantine at home.”

Twenty-seven percent of hospitals expect staff shortages within the next week, according to CDPHE data, and 11% of hospitals expect an ICU bed shortage within that time.

Despite the uphill battle, there is a sense of resiliency and strength among medical professionals on the front line.

“It’s been awful to watch families not be in the room with their loved once while they’re passing away, but it’s also highlighted how strong the nurses are,” Norton said.

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