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December 9, 2021 7:42 PM

Statewide Hospital Strain Continues to Affect Emergency Transfers

(December 9, 2021) – As the holiday season continues, Colorado continues to experience a strain on hospital capacity. While COVID cases have declined since last month's peak, 95 percent of acute care beds and 94 percent of ICU beds are occupied.

The delta variant accounts for nearly 100 percent of cases in Colorado resulting in high rates of transmission leading to new cases and, in turn, ongoing hospitalizations and deaths. Most of these cases are amongst unvaccinated individuals as 84 percent of those currently hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been fully vaccinated.

While cases and hospitalizations are indicating a decline, the full impact of Thanksgiving has yet to be seen as the state heads into the busy winter tourism season and holiday gatherings continue. The residual effects of any event, such as a holiday gathering like Thanksgiving, will show up after three to six weeks.

San Miguel County transfers all patients in need of emergency services, intensive care and in-patient treatment to regional hospitals which continue to be full despite the recent decline in new COVID cases throughout the state. As a result, patients are being transferred to hospitals out of state compromising timeliness of care, increasing distance from home and family, compounding financial burden and potentially impacting follow-up care.

“Yesterday, I had an ambulance bring in a patient with a badly broken leg, and I didn’t know where I was going to be able to send them,” said Dr. Diana Koelliker, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Telluride Regional Medical Center. “Whether you need to be hospitalized for COVID-related or non-COVID-related problems like a broken leg, heart attack or stroke, our ability to provide care in a hospital right now is significantly compromised.”

Without hospital beds in the county, it is normal for patients to be transferred throughout the state for emergencies such as urgent surgery or intensive care. But according to Dr. Koelliker, the normal options are now off the table as the county’s medical centers are faced with patients traveling long distances, sometimes even out of state, for in-patient care.

“People have to recognize that the impact of them getting ill or injured right now is much greater than it usually is and, certainly, we don’t want the situation to get worse over the coming months,” said Dr. Koelliker. “We’re about to embark upon our busiest season of the year. We have multiple transfers daily in a typical year as our visitor numbers go up. It’s a crisis and this is the reality of what we are dealing with now.”

Last month, the state activated a portion of its crisis standards of care (CSC) plan that deals with staffing health care systems last month. To manage patient loads and increase capacity, the state amended hospital crisis standards of care aim to spell out more clearly how a hospital can and should handle situations when the sheer number of patients, and the severity of care they need, exceed available resources. This activation and amendments further indicate that the pandemic is worsening with no immediate end in sight.

“The key to bringing our hospital capacity back to a manageable level is to keep yourself healthy,” said Public Health Director Grace Franklin. “Please get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask. Get your flu shot. Take extra care of yourself for the next few weeks.”

Public Health has confirmed twenty-three new positive cases of COVID-19 from test results received from December 2 through 8. Of these cases, one is a nonresident, 16 are confirmed as east end residents while seven are confirmed as west end residents, one with residency unknown. As of release time today, there are 23 active local cases, all actively contagious cases are currently in isolation. There have been 1,346 total COVID cases among residents including 196 total breakthrough cases, and five COVID-related deaths. To learn more about the county’s current COVID-19 metrics, please visit the SMC COVID-19 dashboard.

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