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A combination of medical care drives up hospitalizations, 93% of ICU beds are in use

Posted at 9:40 PM, Oct 21, 2021

DENVER — Hospitalization levels across Colorado are surging, and some hospitals are diverting ambulances to help cope with the increased patient volume.

HealthOne, Parker Adventist Hospital, UCHealth hospitals in northern Colorado and hospitals throughout the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs are feeling the pinch.

UCHealth is caring for 313 patients with COVID-19, the highest number in 10 months, according to the Larimer County Department of Public Health and Environment.

The increase in hospitalizations is across all ages and is made up of a combination of COVID-19 cases, trauma care, delayed care, an early respiratory virus and staffing shortages.

RELATED: Colorado officials sound warning over ICU bed capacity, press for people to get vaccinated

Cara Welch, the senior director of communications for the Colorado Hospital Association, said reports show a very high-capacity level of bed use for intensive care, medical and surgical care, and acute care.

“We're certainly concerned with what we are seeing right now,” Welch said.

There are only about 120 intensive care unit beds across Colorado available, with 93% of ICU beds are in use. The seven-day average is 92%, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Welch said it’s very concerning to have such high number for a long period of time.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise, but they have not exceeded the cases reported last year. Experts worry this will soon change with fewer people wearing masks. They believe it's what helped slow down the number of flu cases significantly in 2020.

Dr. Michelle Barron, the senior medical director of infection prevention and control for UCHealth, said they are seeing a record number of Respiratory Syncytial Virus cases. RSV is a respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms.

“Flu volume is another thing that can really stress our hospital capacity, just depending on how severe it is and how much it's spreading in our community,” Welch said.

Dr. Stephen Cobb, the Denver Metro Group chief medical officer for Centura Health, said they have space, personnel protective equipment and ventilators, but they need staff. Nationwide there is a nursing shortage.

“We've had times that we've been on divert for some of our hospitals, we've had surgeries that are non-urgent that we've delayed until we have times where we have increased capacity,” Cobb said.

When hospitals serving rural communities go into divert status, it can increase turnaround times for ambulances significantly. On average, an ambulance dispatched from the Elizabeth Fire Department takes 1 1/2 hours to transport and transfer a patient, but that time has recently doubled.

“It's kind of a crisis scenario,” Elizabeth Fire Department Fire Chief TJ Steck said.

The fire department has two or three ambulances in operation daily and transports patients to three hospitals.

“When those hospitals are on divert status, we end up having to go much further into the metro area to find an appropriate hospital,” Steck said.

If the department needs help responding to calls, a nearby fire station will lend a hand, but Steck said it's really about everyone working together to help ease the strain on the system.

“We need to make sure that we're not overloading the emergency departments with things that may not need emergency care, so if you have something that may not be life-threatening, you could simply go to an urgent care or call your primary care physician,” Steck said.

During a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis called on Coloradans to roll up their sleeve and get the COVID-19 and the flu vaccine.