Garfield County hospitals seeing greater COVID-19 patient numbers than ever
Issue plea for people to remain vigilant through the holidays to flatten the curve again
Valley View Hospital admitted more patients with COVID-19 in one recent week than it did during the entire month after the mid-summer spike in cases following the July 4th holiday.
Still, the Glenwood Springs-based hospital says it’s able to effectively treat patients and send them home quicker than in the earlier days of the now 10-month-long pandemic, emphasized Dr. Brett Hesse, an Emergency Department doctor and hospitalist for Valley View.
But the overall increase in new COVID-19 cases and people coming to the hospital is a growing concern, as the numbers spike locally and across the country.
“We have had more patients hospitalized over a seven-day period last week than we did in any week during the initial wave in the spring,” Hesse said.
“As the cases are going up significantly across the state and the country, our data is reflecting that,” he said.
At the same time, “What we continue to tell people is that it is safe to come to the hospital, and we have never had a case where a patient got COVID from another patient.”
Garfield County Public Health’s metric for determining hospital capacity is striking. It measures the number of days over a 14-day period that the county’s two hospitals saw stable or declining hospitalizations. The most recent number was five days.
That means hospitals saw no more than a 25% increase in hospitalizations from one day to the next in five out of 14 days, explained Mason Hohstadt, public health data specialist with the county, in a recent update to county commissioners.
A better measure may be to look at the number of admissions versus the number discharges over a set time period, Hesse said.
In Valley View’s case, since Nov. 24, there have been 23 new COVID-19 hospitalizations and 24 COVID patients discharged, according to the latest statistics released by Valley View on Thursday.
Grand River Health in Rifle, during that same period of time, has seen seven new hospitalizations and the same number of patients either discharged or transferred, according to the Rifle hospital’s latest data.
The transfer capacity of other, larger hospitals in the region to deal with more serious cases is a greater concern.
“We have increased our capacity for care by 50 percent as requested by the state, and our COVID ward has been full consistently over the past three weeks,” said Dr. Kevin Coleman, Chief Medical Officer for Grand River Health.
“We are closely monitoring our area hospital partners and their ability to accept transfers, and as of three days ago there were over 80 COVID-positive patients hospitalized in the surrounding community,” he said.
Valley View’s Hesse said all of the hospitals in the region are in constant communication about COVID patients and treatment options.
“We are always revisiting our ability to care for patients across the whole northwest Colorado region,” Hesse said, adding the anticipated post-Thanksgiving crunch has been a major focus this week.
“From Rifle, to Meeker, to Aspen to Vail, we’re working all together as a unit and looking for any additional opportunity to collaborate with our neighbors, and really discussing the framework for how we handle this on a local basis,” Hesse said.
Valley View regularly reviews the latest therapeutics to treat COVID patients, he said.
“We have an amazing team of dedicated, smart folks here for a town our size,” Hesse said. “It really elevates our care level.”
Both Hesse and Coleman also encouraged the public to remain vigilant in following public health protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially during the holiday season.
“We really need the community’s support as we get through this next stage, because the numbers are as high as we’ve seen them,” Hesse said. “We’ve talked from the beginning about the need to flatten the cure. Well, now we really need to flatten the curve. As you think about protecting people who are vulnerable, these small actions make a big difference.”
Coleman said Grand River’s staff has been working some long, difficult weeks to keep a handle on the current surge.
“But we are nearing our limits,” he said. “We recognize the importance our capacity for care has had in decisions made to keep our local economies open, and we are doing everything we can to keep up with the increased need for inpatient hospital care.
“Ideally, a community-wide unification in the very basics that we have strayed from — wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding gatherings — will allow our businesses to open and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.”
Hesse said Valley View is also preparing for its role once a vaccine becomes available, working with the state on distribution and purchasing a special freezer to store the vaccine.
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Last week’s column was about berries, which have super health-promoting capabilities. Nonberry fruit is good for you, too, and is another one of Dr. Greger’s daily dozen in his book “How Not to Die.”