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'We're full': Hospitals sound alarm on critical shortage of beds, staffing issues across Colorado

UCHealth Anschutz now at 100% capacity; DoD brought in to UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital
Posted at 4:51 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 20:36:54-05

LOVELAND, Colo. — During a virtual town hall Thursday, hospitals in northern Colorado, including facilities in the Banner Health and UCHealth systems, sounded the alarm about surging COVID cases and staffing shortages leading to a critical breaking point.

Additionally, UCHealth announced that a 20-person medical response team from the Department of Defense would be working alongside UChealth workers for about the next month at the UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins to alleviate staffing shortages. There were 373 patients hospitalized at UCHealth locations across the state as of Thursday morning.

"Our providers and staff have been working long, hard days and nights for more than 20 months now. They are wear but continue to show up every day to serve our community with pride. They will apreciate the support," said Kevin Unger, the president and CEO at Poudre Valley Hospital."

In metro Denver, it’s a similar situation.

“We are full,” said Dr. Richard Zane, chief innovation officer and chief of emergency services at UCHealth’s Anschutz campus. “We are at 100 percent capacity.”

Zane says the vast majority of those beds are being used by unvaccinated COVID patients.

“If I had 10 things to do to ease this pandemic, nine of them would be 'get vaccinated' and the 10th would be to get monoclonal antibodies in people who have COVID and are symptomatic and are prone to severe disease,” Zane said.

Adding to the urgency of the situation, Zane says they’re also seeing a surge in other illnesses.

“It’s probably a combination of people not seeking health care for two years. Every heart attack is a sicker heart attack, every stroke is a sicker stroke, every complication of diabetes is a more severe complication, every cancer is a more advanced cancer.”

On a Zoom town hall meeting Thursday, hospitals in northern Colorado say they are now at 92% capacity.

“The number one treatment is vaccination,” said UCHealth’s Dr. Diana Breyer. “It is effective.”

And with Thanksgiving now one week away, gatherings could push the surge even higher.

“This is really a surge of the unvaccinated that has filled our hospitals and put us skirting the tree-tops of capacity,” Zane said.

And now, nearly every single medical professional we speak with tells us they are worried about the flu pushing capacity over the top.

“If there are only one or two ICU beds available in your region, you are going to be shipped somewhere else,” said Camille Rodriguez, executive director of Boulder County Public Health. “We've already seen some increases in flu cases. That is of concern to us as relative to our hospital partners and their ability to cope.”

But, UCHealth wanting to stress the point that despite reaching capacity, patients should not avoid seeking care, especially if your condition is life-threatening.

Many hospital have developed surge plans to expand capacity as the critical need increases.

As of Thursday, there were 1,535 hospitalized COVID-19 patients across Colorado and 81 intensive care unit beds available. The seven-day average positivity rate was 9.75%.