Medical Center experiencing difficulties transferring patients

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    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) staff is experiencing difficulties finding hospital beds elsewhere in Colorado for patients in need of a higher level of care or more specific care.

    That, according to PSMC Chief Operating Officer/Chief Nursing Officer Kathee Douglas, includes both COVID and non-COVID patients.

    “Anybody who requires a higher level of care and may need an ICU or a heart cath or … a specialized procedure, we’re having difficulty finding those beds throughout the state,” Douglas said.

    One day last week, Douglas explained, PSMC had three patients in its Emergency Department needing transfer at the same time.

    She noted it took 12 hours to find an ICU bed for a patient with COVID who was on a ventilator.

    “That’s a long time,” she said, adding that, normally a transfer time is about two hours from the time a person presents to the emergency room from the time PSMC is ready to call an ambulance or flight to transport them to another level of care.

    Douglas noted PSMC also had an 11-year-old who needed pediatric COVID care, with PSMC experiencing difficulty transporting the child out.

    San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) Executive Director Liane Jollon told The SUN Wednesday that the state is reporting that 80 percent of the state’s hospital beds of all types are full.

    Douglas suggested that the issue appears to be not the number of beds, but the staffing of the beds, with many hospitals short-staffed like PSMC.

    “It’s hard to figure out when you’re in a wave where you are in that wave, but at 80 percent full with staffing shortages and difficulties transferring patients as quickly as needed, they are, from a statewide perspective, we are tracking more closely the hospitalization use, and capacity,” Jollon said, adding that the state is making plans for potential increased need.

    According to SJBPH’s Chandler Griffin, COVID-19 public information officer and communications director, cases in the state are still climbing.

    Locally, he said, “cases remain on an elevated plateau and … there’s definitely still significant spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant in the community.”  

    “It appears that the Delta hits a little bit harder,” Douglas said, adding that very few vaccinated individuals have gotten sick with the COVID-19 Delta variant.

    Almost 100 percent of those who have, she noted,  have been immunocompromised or had other health factors that put them more at risk.

    “We’ve not seen healthy, vaccinated people with that COVID,” she said. “The unvaccinated, which you know is 99 percent of what we’re seeing right now, are getting sick faster and getting more sick.”

    Those individuals may not need to be admitted to the hospital, Douglas explained, but may make several visits over the course of their illness, and many are going home on oxygen.

    Douglas reported Tuesday PSMC has had five COVID transfers in August who need a higher level of care, which she indicated probably is not a huge increase from earlier in the pandemic.

    “The trouble with it is that more of them need a higher level of care and the bed availability that’s a real issue for us,” Douglas said.

    Griffin noted that about 400 people per week are being vaccinated in SJBPH’s service area, and called it “fortunate” that Archuleta School District schools don’t return until Sept. 7 because families have time to have eligible adolescents begin the vaccine process prior to the start of school to begin building immunity.

    Jollon also noted that schools in the area are just beginning to return to classrooms — something that has led to increased cases elsewhere.

    For more information on COVID-19, including SJBPH’s current public health advisory, testing and vaccines, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/.

    Local numbers

    Archuleta County’s COVID-19 case incidence rate remains above the state’s, but below the nation’s.

    According to SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 171.4 cases per 100,000 people — down from 192.8 a week prior.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 161.2 Wednesday — up from 109.9 on Aug. 18.

    As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,240 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,216 a week prior. 

    The agency showed Archuleta County was at 9 percent positivity Wednesday.

    SJBPH reports that Archuleta County has had three deaths among COVID cases.

    Over half of the county’s total population (54 percent) had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Wednesday, with 50 percent of the population having completed a vaccine series. Of the eligible population (those 12 and older), 61 percent have received at least one dose, while 57 percent have completed a vaccine series.

    Archuleta County has one active outbreak: Pine Ridge Extended Care Center, which has reported two staff cases.

    The state’s outbreak information is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid19-outbreak-data.

    randi@pagosasun.com