Health care workers concerned with dwindling hospital capacity ahead of major holidays

Posted at 7:12 PM, Nov 10, 2021

DENVER — There are only about 100 intensive care unit beds available in hospitals across the state, and more than 90% of them are filled — many by coronavirus patients.

"It is the busiest and the most stressful I've ever seen it in 15 years of medicine," said Dr. Eric Hill, a physician at the Medical Center of Aurora.

By the looks of it, the pandemic may be robbing frontline medical workers of a peaceful holiday once again.

"It's a little disheartening at times, because we listen to the national news and hear about everyone is doing better, and that is not our experience in Colorado. The numbers are on the rise and the challenges are real," said Dr. Matt Mendenhall, an emergency room doctor.

Those challenges are very apparent now, along with the burnout seen among health care workers, according to Hill.

"The morale of the staff? It is incredibly challenging to work in the healthcare system right now," said Dr. Hill.

Many health care workers across the state will have similar accounts.

"I think the workforce is tired," said JP Valin, SCL Health chief clinical officer.

UCHealth Senior Medical Director of Infection prevention Michelle Barron would agree.

"Everybody's very tired, obviously a little frustrated," said Barron.

But, that frustration may not be at it's height yet, according to Hill, considering there are several major holidays around the corner.

"That's a problem because the hospital systems, as of a year ago, we had more capacity," said Hill. "We had more staffing to be able to absorb that, but now we do not, and so that's put us into this crisis that we're in."

Other illnesses may also show their significance during the winter and fall months, making matters worse for the current capacity crisis, according to Barron.

"Covid cases are rising, and we are likely going to have flu intermixed with this as well," Barron said. "You really can't just shove a bed in a hallway."

Or can you? Some medical directors admit, nothing is off the table, including rescheduling some patients who had non-urgent procedures in order to have capacity for critical patients.

"We are still open for business and taking care of every single patient we can every day. But, some days we have to call folks and say 'well, let's look at next week,'" said Dr. Mendenhall.

It's hard to say when hospitals will find their balance again and for some doctors like Hill, that may be the most concerning part.

"I go on international disasters and national disasters. Those, I know are really busy and rough, but we do that for a finite period of time. Here, we don't really see where this ends," said Dr. Hill.