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Medical Center of Aurora sets up outside triage to separate COVID-19 patients from others

COVID caseload expected to peak in 3 to 4 weeks
Posted at 1:56 AM, Mar 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-28 11:37:53-04

AURORA, Colo. — Emergency rooms all across metro Denver are preparing for an increasing number of COVID-19 patients. Hospital staffs want to keep them separate from patients seeking treatment for other ailments, like chest pains and broken bones.

At The Medical Center of Aurora, a Health One hospital, they've set up a tent and an RV outside the emergency room for use as an outdoor triage.

"The main thing we're trying to do is be able to accommodate the surge of patients we're expecting," said Dr. Eric Hill, the hospital's chair of emergency services. "We are trying to refine our processes as to how that works."

Hill said they admitted six COVID-19 patients to the hospital on Thursday, and expect that number will rise in the weeks to come.

He said the outdoor triage had been set up to streamline the process.

"We initially screen patients as they arrive here," said Nurse Manager Dani Kloepper. "We ask if they've had any contact with any positive COVID-19 patients, or if they've had any high-risk travel, and then we screen their symptoms."

If those criteria are met, the patient is sent to the RV for triage care.

"Here, I can evaluate and disposition them in a much faster process," Dr. Hill said. "If I can screen outpatients who don't need admission, evaluate and treat them, I can do five times the number of patients through here than I can through the ER if the ER is backlogged with patients, who are on ventilators, or requiring oxygen."

Hill said in many instances, patients can be sent home.

"We can provide prescriptions, we can do all the treatment they need and evaluation they need in there, and then determine where they go," Dr. Hill said.

He said in some cases, the patient would have to be admitted if it looks like they're going to need oxygen.

There were just a handful of patients processed Friday afternoon, but Dr. Hill said staff is bracing for many, many more.

"It's the calm before the storm," he said, admitting that the coming peak is creating a sense of anxiety for some people.

"That's what we trained for. It's just the anticipation of what we're going to get into within two or three weeks. That's the anxiety-producing component of it," he said.

Hill said more COVID-19 patients are ending up at The Medical Center of Aurora than any other Health One hospital in Colorado, but it's not because there are more COVID-19 patients in Aurora, it's just that they're set up for it.

He said he wants people to know that COVID-19 tests are not being administered to patients unless they are admitted to the hospital.

He said that means they must have more than a fever and a cough. They must also be having difficulty breathing.