As pressure mounts around state, Jeffco hospitals have not reached capacity

COVID-19 admissions at highest levels but hospitals continuing full operations

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/3/20

As the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases is pushing hospitals across the state to their capacity, officials from Jefferson County’s two major hospitals say they are also dealing with an increase …

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As pressure mounts around state, Jeffco hospitals have not reached capacity

COVID-19 admissions at highest levels but hospitals continuing full operations

Posted

As the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases is pushing hospitals across the state to their capacity, officials from Jefferson County’s two major hospitals say they are also dealing with an increase in patients but so far continue to have sufficient resources to care for them.

At SCL Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, President and CEO Grant Wicklund said that hospital has seen a “ramping up” in patients after COVID-19 admissions since the summer months, when admissions were down sharply from the start of the pandemic.

However, Wicklund said that hospital continues to “manage beds, supplies and staff carefully” and is, so far, not close to being overwhelmed.

“The fact is we haven’t seen more than we could handle,” said Wicklund. “We do have enough protective equipment; we have sufficient staff and we’ve got room for (the patients) so we are not drowning.”

Wicklund also said that Lutheran remains “well situated” to have the resources to adequately meet demand for the foreseeable future, even as staff are anticipating that they “will continue to see a lot of COVID-19 until the late spring.”

Lutheran’s emergency room is typically among the top or three busiest in the state and has developed an expertise in managing patient flow that has been helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“We just don’t see being overwhelmed here, we just don’t see it,” said Wicklund. “The number of COVID-19 patients could increase by another 50% and I think we would be fine. I don’t mean to say we are half empty but what I am saying is we have plans to be able to take care of it if it happens.”

St. Anthony “open for care”

The situation is similar at Centura St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, which spokesman Kevin Massey said is seeing an increase in both patients with COVID-19 and “those needing treatment who delayed care for serious conditions early in the pandemic.”

“At this time, Centura-St. Anthony Hospital is prepared to meet all needs of the community, remains open for care and continues to partner with our providers and frontline caregivers to ensure those in our communities have access to urgent and emergent services,” Massey wrote in an email. “That said, our capacity is certainly not unlimited.”

Massey said the hospital is currently focused on making sure the hospital “has the staff available to meet the needs of COVID-19 patients and others needing emergency care.”

“We are working hard to find compassionate caregivers to care for our patients — recruiting nurses to come out of retirement and transitioning clinical and non-clinical individuals from less busy units to support our ICUs and other inpatient units.”

Staff tired but treatment improved

As Centura St. Anthony faces its highest number of new patients since the start of the pandemic, frontline nurse Paige Cunningham said she and other nurses are feeling tired but not letting it impact the care they provide.

“I think we are all just kind of exhausted,” Cunningham said. “When COVID-19 first came out it was ‘oh, if we can get through this first surge and people can wash their hands and wear a mask’ then we kind of had that glimmer of hope that people would take it serious and now we are on our third wave.”

Megan Nunnelly, who manages a COVID-19 unit at Lutheran, said the last few weeks have been challenging not only because of the increase in patients but because many patients have been showing up to the hospital sicker than they had for much of the pandemic. However, there also some positive trends compared to a few months ago, she said.

“In some ways it’s a little bit different then it was in the spring in that we are a little bit more prepared and know a little bit about the virus and can manage it a little bit better,” she said.

The spokespersons for both SCL Lutheran and Centura St. Anthony declined to provide specific details related to capacity and staffing levels, which they said change frequently and are not a reliable view of their ability to care for patients.

“That is very much a moving target and is changing daily, if not hourly,” wrote Sarah Ellis, who manages communications for SCL Lutheran and recommended contacting the Colorado Hospital Association for a better look at the overall hospital situation across the metro area and state. “Those things are being evaluated constantly.”

Hospitals under pressure statewide

Julie Lonborg, the Senior Vice President of Communications and Media Relations at the CHA, said that “throughout the state, on any given day, we have hospitals that are being pressured tested on any given day.

However, Lonborg said Denver-area hospitals are experienced in managing situations where “all of a sudden you have more trauma patients then you have beds or resources have the capability to delay non-emergency surgeries, and also have agreements with in place to transfer patients as needed.

Because of that, Lonborg said the public can continue to have confidence that there will be a bed for them if they are in an emergency situation such as a car accident. Lonborg said some hospitals in Colorado have also begun rejecting transfers from other surrounding states to preserve capacity.

Still, the increased pressure on Colorado hospitals is making it all the more important for Coloradoans to do their part, she said.

“That’s part of why we have been so vocal recently, in the last couple of days to say that we need Colorado to do their part because we are being pressure tested and we need Coloradoans to do those things like social-distancing and stopping the virus to ensure we can care for everybody,” she said.

That desire was echoed by Cunningham, who said she is hoping that efforts by her and other public health workers to be increasingly vocal will lead the public to reevaluate their behavior with the holidays fast approaching.

“I think for me just seeing on social media that people are still going to weddings and still having baby showers, that is some of the toughest things for me just because it’s real for us,” she said. “It’s not something that we can say is ‘media hype’ because we are seeing it every day. So for me that’s been the hardest and I think for a lot of my coworkers too ... we are just disheartened that people aren’t taking this seriously.”

[Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the hospital where Paige Cunningham is employed. Cunningham is a nurse at Centura St. Anthony in Lakewood.]

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