Available ICU Beds At Hospitals Filling Up As 3rd Wave Hits Hard

Colorado’s supply of ICU beds is falling and Gov. Jared Polis and state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy addressed it again Tuesday as Colorado’s third COVID wave hits hard.

“With only 25 ICU beds in Denver, three in Weld County, five in Pueblo, 14 in Colorado Springs down to very low numbers of ICU beds available … But there is a timing factor there and while I expect these, these successful data driven interventions will work.”

But in hospitals around the state, administrators are looking at filling difficult gaps.

“So certainly the Front Range, the Mountain corridor, the Western Slope, and some isolated rural hospitals,” said Julie Lonborg, senior vice president of communications for the Colorado Hospital Association. Gaps could be hard to fill.

“Very often there are specialized beds in critical care. And it is usually possible to get more of those if you need to. But it’s not the bed and it’s not the physical space … You have to have a bed and you have to have staff.”

Denver Health is looking at what is called “surging.” That’s changing hospital setups and beds. Chief medical officer Dr. Connie Price is part of the team looking at what the hospital will do.

“We are expanding by six beds and then by Dec. 1 about 12 more beds,” she said.,

Staffing is also a problem there.

“You can surge easily with a physical bed. As long as you have the hookups, oxygen. So there’s a lot more ability to do that. It really is that staffing that’s the hardest part.”

Hospitals hit hard include those in Grand Junction, the San Luis Valley and Weld County. A spokeswoman for North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley replied to an inquiry via email calling the hospital, “Extremely full, and it has been very full for much of the past three weeks. We opened three new ICU rooms recently, and they were full almost immediately. We have already put some levels of our surge plans in place, and we may expand.”

Dr. Price noted that the number of open ICU beds is a number that can vary by the hour. Hospitals have busy and quiet times. Until now.

“I think the difference now is the busy days now are on top of each other every day. With not really an end in sight right now.”

The latest surge in COVID cases comes amid a typical increase in hospitalizations.

“The COVID patients keep coming and our regular patients keep coming. They have a lot of regular need, particularly those who differed a lot of care in the spring when we shut down.”

Ultimately hospitals might change the way care is provided or even give nurses more patients.

“If it came to be that we had to surge so much that staff were stretched we may have to rethink those ratios, or find different models of staffing that might extend the staff members say it’s a nurse by having helpers come in to expand their reach a bit.”

Hospitals are already transferring patients. Dozens of patients over two and a half weeks, said Lonborg. Hospitals have to think outside their own box.

“And so it’s no longer looking at it as Denver Health capacity or another hospital capacity it’s where we’re at in the state. Where the available bed is, getting the patient there,” said Dr. Price. “When we no longer have that option, then you know that’s when we really get into trouble. And some of the projections I’ve seen, if we stay on this course then that’s where we’ll be.

Those projections indicate greater pressure on hospitals in late December. And Dr. Price notes, without the public’s help in reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19, an already stressful time will get worse.

“And we’re all tired. We are, a lot of our staff had not taken a vacation since the spring. They’re tired and they’re worried for their patients. They’re worried about what’s to come. So please help us stop the spread in the community so that we don’t see all of these patients in the hospital.”

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