Local toll of COVID-19 pandemic
Patients, families, medical staff all impacted by hospitalizations
In addition to 24 deaths, a multitude of health scares, sick days and economic impacts, the local toll of the global pandemic on the medical community in Routt County includes 138 COVID-19 admissions at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center since March 1, 2020.
“Most of us, frankly, are exhausted. It just overwhelms us as people. It’s emotionally challenging, physically and socially challenging,” said Dr. Gary Breen, a physician at YVMC for more than five years who specializes in treating hospitalized patients.
The doctor said quality of life has changed for the worse for many of the medical center staff due to witnessing pandemic patients firsthand. He said the medical center has not seen a significant slowdown of COVID-19 patients with the advent of the omicron variant, and each COVID-19 case remains challenging and creates anxiety because the virus can cause a variety of medical issues.
“Sadly, even with a lot of people vaccinated, which we have in Routt County, we still get a lot of hospitalizations for COVID. I have not seen an appreciable decline lately, which is unfortunate,” Breen said.
“In any given week, we may have a couple of people, or more, hospitalized with COVID,” said Routt County Public Health Chief Medical Officer Brian Harrington.
Since YVMC is part of the larger UCHealth system, the local staff and patients have benefited from the availability of treatments and expertise available across the system, Breen said. However, critically ill COVID-19 patients, who may need more complex, labor-intensive treatments, such as ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, must be stabilized, then transferred from YVMC to larger hospitals. Those patients may then need weeks or months of a continuum of care, Breen said.
Throughout the pandemic, Breen has seen staff become more confident with the improvements in virus-fighting tools and increases in knowledge about the risk factors.
Yet, the disheartening part of the fight, Breen said, is “the demographic of patients has changed to almost exclusively at this point unvaccinated (patients) admitted with the primary diagnosis of COVID pneumonia.”
The lungs of very ill COVID-19 patients often cannot provide adequate oxygen for the vital organs to function, Breen said.
“It’s very often progressive low-oxygen levels that causes the patient’s demise,” Breen said.
Breen ardently stressed the importance of vaccinations as the “best tool” to fight COVID-19 infections.
“Be smart and wear a mask in public,” Breen said. “This is sadly not over.”
Routt County Public Health statistics show that 79 Routt County residents have been admitted to hospitals that were Routt County residents since March 1, 2020, including at YVMC or other hospitals elsewhere. Only one Routt County resident hospitalization was for a patient under age 18.
Almost all of the COVID-19 patients hospitalized locally were admitted after arriving sick to the Emergency Department, said Lindsey Reznicek, communications strategist at YVMC. During 2021, 74 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized at YVMC, and 64 of those were unvaccinated at the time of hospitalization, Reznicek noted.
Reznicek said of the 138 admissions of patients, who were residents from various locations, some of those had a primary diagnosis of another medical condition beyond having COVID-19.
The average length of stay at YVMC for patients with a COVID-19 diagnosis has been four days, Reznicek said. Across the UCHealth system, which includes 12 full-service hospitals, patient length of stay has varied based on the virus variant. During the delta surge in the second half of 2021, the average length of hospital stay was 8.5 days, Reznicek said. More recently, during the omicron surge, patients are spending an average of 3.9 days in the hospital across all of UCHealth facilities.
To date, 24 residents of Routt County have died from COVID-19, according to the Routt County Public Health Department. COVID-19 deaths in Routt County are equally divided between females and males, and 92% of those deaths, or 22 out of 24, were individuals age 70 or older. The department reports 19 of the Routt County resident deaths occurred before anyone was eligible to be fully vaccinated. Of the five deaths that occurred after vaccines were available, none of those five were fully vaccinated, according to Public Health.
The official cause of death for those patients is reported as “COVID, respiratory failure,” according to Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg.
The coroner said at least two COVID-19 deaths took place at YVMC, while the majority of deaths happened in assisted living facilities, or some at patient homes. Ryg said one man age 56 was found deceased Sept. 27 in his vehicle in a park in Steamboat Springs, and that death was later confirmed after an autopsy as due to “COVID-19 pneumonitis.”
“Most of the people who died of COVID were elderly and had compromised physical issues,” Ryg said.
Data from Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment for March 1, 2020, through Jan. 30, 2022
Total cases: 5,944
Total resident hospitalizations: 79
Total deaths: 24
Total deaths of residents: 51
Total deaths of residents: 22
Total deaths of residents: 0
Total cases: 1,256,557
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
A troubled Western Slope mental health care center that services the Roaring Fork Valley falsified assessments of its patients’ conditions for at least nine years in an effort to make its treatment programs seem more effective and secure funding from the state, whistleblowers say of Mind Springs.