Hospital prepared for increase in positive COVID-19 test results
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As more tests are taken and results processed, more positive cases of COVID-19 will be reported in Routt County.
There is a massive backlog of tests at both the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s lab and the private labs, which have come on line in recent months. Tests are currently taking up to a week to turnaround results.
On Sunday afternoon, Routt County officials reported a fourth positive COVID-19 case. A man in his 80s, who is a second-homeowner in Routt County has tested positive, according to Kari Ladrow, director of Routt County Public Health.
It isn’t known at this time whether the man has underlying medical conditions. He is currently in self-isolation as per orders from public health officials.
“Since Routt County started testing, it has conducted 108 tests with 47 test results pending with CDPHE,” Ladrow reported as of Sunday evening.
There will be more positive cases. They may be our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers or ourselves.
And they should be treated with kindness and compassion as we would with any illness, Ladrow emphasized at a panel discussion on Friday.
The virus is the common enemy — not the people who get it.
The focus now is ensuring the entire community works together to slow the spread, so our health care system is not overwhelmed and ensure those who need the most medical care can get it, Dr. Laura Sehnert explained during the panel.
Pandemics and other “surge capacity” events are possibilities for which UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center is always preparing, described Soniya Fidler, president of UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Surge capacity is defined as “a measurable representation of ability to manage a sudden influx of patients.”
Not only do they practice for a pandemic, they practice for a pandemic during a snowstorm, Fidler said. If you think it can’t happen, they prepare for it.
There are 39 beds at Yampa Valley Medical Center, and it is imperative those beds remain available for the patients most in need.
“We are trying to make sure we maintain that capacity,” said Sehnert. “That’s our goal.”
Those beds include the birthing center, the neonatal special care unit, the intensive care unit and regular hospital beds.
In terms of the need for isolation, there is flexibility in terms of bed types and sectioning off an entire wing if needed, Fidler said.
On a daily basis, Fidler said the hospital is assessing inventory of key equipment like ventilators and personal protective equipment. And that is being assessed across the entire UCHealth system, which includes 12 major hospitals, she said.
“Being a part of UCHealth has tremendous benefits,” said Sehnert.
If one hospital has needs or surpluses, Fidler explained, that is constantly being assessed and evened out across the whole system.
Asked specifically about ventilators, Fidler would not give any numbers, but said they are always working to ensure additional surplus, whether that means buying or leasing.
On supplies of personal protective equipment, like masks, Fidler said, “We never want to think we are in pretty good shape. We want to be very conservative” and preserve existing supplies as best they can.
One of those measures was canceling elective surgeries, Fidler noted, before Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued his directive.
“We don’t know what the future holds,” she said. “It’s a tough decision for an organization like ours to make. But we know it’s in the best interest of the patient. And to prepare for the potential influx that we may see.”
“A few local contractors have reached out to offer their N95 masks,” said Eli Nykamp, director of operations and emergency management at the hospital.
If you have an elective surgery schedule, Fidler urges people to contact their doctor. All surgeries are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis, she said. And there are certain circumstances under which those surgeries, even classified as elective, can’t be postponed.
“It’s not an automatic cancellation on all cases,” she said.
As the hospital prepares for COVID-19 cases, they must also continue to take care of every other emergency as it comes in, from appendicitis and broken bones to heart attacks and strokes.
As reports come out across the country and the world of health care workers falling ill — or waiting on tests and being unable to work — Fidler said staffing contingency plans are also always part of the bigger preparation efforts.
They look at cross-training opportunities, analyzing the competencies of every staff member, and creating back-up plans for staff that can’t work, Fidler described.
Every day they identify the gaps and places where they have extra personnel.
On planning for some kind of a field hospital, Routt County Public Health Officer Dr. Brian Harrington noted it isn’t very easy to set up a tent in the snow. However the County’s entire emergency response team has already identified several potential locations to house people.
And, Harrington emphasized, that may mean providing a place for patients that need care or are waiting to go home, but don’t need the level of care as in the hospital.
In terms of testing, Fidler said the hospital is experiencing the same frustration as health care providers in the rest of the state and country.
The labs are experiencing a significant backlog, Nykamp said.
“We are looking for all options as far as increasing testing capacity,” Fidler said,
Harrington noted when it takes a week for local officials to receive test results, the contact tracing investigations are significantly limited. Too much time has already passed to do as much good as if they were able to get those positive results within a day or two.
While what we are facing isn’t something “anyone has in our lifetime,” Fidler said. But she said she is very proud of the structure that is in place.
The resources the UCHealth system brings is significant, Fidler said — not only in terms of supplies, but also in high-level expertise on pandemic response.
Right now, both Fidler, Nycamp, Harrington and Sehnert stress the importance of social distancing, and how that can slow the spread and help ensure the hospital can continue to take care of the people who are most in need.
Harrington, who in addition to his role as public health officer works in a private practice, noted most of the private physicians in town work at the hospital and are actively part of the entire support system.
“It’s a really challenging time,” Fidler said. “It’s a very stressful and uncertain time for the entire nation. It’s unprecedented. And it’s important that we take care of each other.”
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