The surge of COVID-19 patients never came for Southwest Memorial Hospital, but it’s prepared if it does.
Southwest Memorial has seven negative-pressure isolation rooms to treat COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalized care, and an isolation ward was created to hold dozens more if necessary, managers for Southwest Health System said during a recent tour.
The hospital has 15 ventilators, including five portable units, to handle serious cases.
“We are prepared for infectious diseases all the time, but COVID caused us to expand our capacity,” said Marc Meyer, Southwest Health pharmacist and infection control manager.
Since the pandemic began in March, about 15 COVID patients have been admitted to Southwest Memorial for treatment, said SHS CEO Tony Sudduth.
Complicated cases, such as those requiring long-term ventilator care, were transferred to more specialized care facilities, including San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction or to hospitals in Albuquerque.
“Our goal is to get the highest level of care needed for the patient,” Meyer said. “Generally, the people we fly out come in pretty sick and are older.”
Southwest Memorial has equipment, staff and isolation facilities to handle 15 COVID patients on a daily basis, he said, and capacity for 30 if necessary.
All other medical services and surgeries have resumed at Southwest Memorial with strict COVID precautions.
Staff has access to 30 powered air-purifying respirators used when treating a COVID-19 patient and other infectious disease cases. The units protect workers by pumping filtered air into a protective hood with a face mask. Negative pressure rooms prevent air that may contain the virus from escaping the room. An air filter scrubs the air before it is vented outdoors.
Out of about 400 staff members, only two part-time workers at the hospital have tested positive, Meyer said. They contracted the virus while traveling, and it was detected before they went to work on the hospital campus.
“We have been very conscientious about protecting ourselves with personal protection equipment, wearing masks and social distancing,” said Karen Labonte, chief nursing officer.
Regional hospitals have a coordinated plan to handle a surge in COVID.
Southwest would take less-severe patients to free up space for complicated cases at other hospitals, Labonte said.
And it has increased testing capacity for COVID. A BD Max rapid-testing machine was purchased for $100,000 with help from Montezuma County for increased community testing. An ID Now machine provided by the state also provides fast testing. The BD Max has 700 test kits, and the ID Now has 200.
Treatment therapiesThere is no cure or vaccine for COVID, so medical treatment focuses on respiratory support and patient stabilization to aid recovery.
Treatment may include respiratory drugs such as bronchodilators, oxygen treatment, airway support and ventilator care, said Wendy Lindsay, respiratory therapist supervisor.
If conditions worsen with breathing difficulties and other complications, the patient is intubated and put on a ventilator.
A ventilator mechanically pushes air in and out of a patient’s lungs. The patient is sedated, and a tube is passed through the mouth and airway and into the lungs.
Complications from COVID run the gamut, from blood clots, infections and stroke to heart attacks and damage to the liver, kidney and lungs.
“COVID stresses the body. If someone is prone to other medical problems, they tend to manifest,” Meyer said.
As of Sept. 30, Montezuma County had 145 positive and 14 active cases. So far, 127 patients have recovered, and three have died. Out of the testing, 4,876 came back negative.
SHS is preparing for increased testing in the fall and winter as school resumes and more people congregate indoors, which raises the potential exposure to COVID. SHS also is preparing and practicing for mass immunization procedures once a vaccine becomes available, Meyer said.
“We expect a lot of ups and downs in cases until a vaccine becomes available,” he said.
Health agencies also face the added burden of the upcoming flu season, which has similar symptoms to COVID. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is possible to have both diseases at the same time.
Drive-up community testing for the flu and COVID continues at Southwest Memorial, 1311 N. Mildred Road. COVID tests are $5 or free.