As a pandemic surge hits the region, Southwest Health System on Wednesday reported adequate capacity for patients, but CEO Tony Sudduth added that COVID-19 exposure has reduced staff and could affect operations.
As of Wednesday, the 21-bed hospital was at 50% capacity with 11 patients, hospital officials said. On Tuesday, it was treating four patients with COVID-19.
An implemented plan would increase capacity to 38 hospital beds, Sudduth said. As cases rise statewide, Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order for all hospitals to increase capacity by 50%.
Sudduth said that 28 Southwest Health System staff have tested positive for COVID-19 or have an unmasked exposure that increases the potential they will be infected.
The increase in quarantined staff and the sharp increase in the rate of positive tests in the community is troublesome, health officials said.
“Cases are increasing dramatically, and staff infections are increasing, which limits our ability to care for our patients,” Sudduth said. “We are approaching the worst-case scenario we feared for some time. Staffing is a challenge, and at the very time we need every available staff member to take care of our patients.”
Staff exposures to the virus did not occur at the hospital, he said. They originated either from family members or from the community.
The hospital is ramping up bed capacity, but the challenge is having enough staff to care for the additional patients.
“We are attempting to find contract nursing personnel to assist during this time, but the availability is limited,” Sudduth said.
About 70 hospital staff are transitioning to work-from-home shifts to reduce exposure risk. These are primarily administrative staff who work in areas where social distancing is difficult. The hospital has about 400 staff.
Some outpatient services have been limited to free up staff. But elective surgeries have not been shut down.
Plans are in place to transfer high-level care patients to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, and potentially for St. Mary’s to transfer lower-level care patients to Southwest Memorial.
COVID testing at the hospital for community members continues, and long lines have been forming. On a recent day, 200 tests were administered.
Sudduth urged the community to “help prevent the crisis from getting worse” by taking precautions against the pandemic, including mask-wearing, social distancing, staying home if sick, limited travel and group meetings, and frequent hand-washing.
“Compliance locally is still sporadic, and as a result we are seeing an exponential growth in cases in Montezuma County,” Sudduth said.
He added that the high rate of infections is “not sustainable and will at some point overwhelm our system, which is not good for anyone. The only way we are going to change the current trend is to change the behavior of our community, otherwise we risk this not only continuing but continuing to get worse.”