Memorial Regional Health nearing COVID unit capacity as cases continue to surge in Moffat County
As positive cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in Moffat County, Memorial Regional Health’s COVID-19 unit is starting to feel the affects.
As of Tuesday morning MRH had six patients admitted into the COVID-19 unit. Those six are in addition to five admitted, non-COVID patients, according to MRH Vice President of Operations Jennifer Riley.
In the past 24 hours, MRH discharged one COVID-19 patient and admitted two new COVID-positive patients, pushing the unit ever so close to capacity as Moffat County is moving down into Safer at Home Level Orange. MRH recently completed a modification to the COVID unit to increase capacity from six beds to eight.
“We’re very concerned,” Riley said. “That’s part of why we’re putting out very specific information daily with where we’re at when it comes to capacity.
“…We’re ruling out people, as we speak, for possible admission because we have so many people admitted currently,” Riley added.
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MRH created the COVID unit in March to prepare for a potential surge in COVID-positive patients. Fortunately for MRH and Moffat County as a whole, COVID wasn’t much of an issue early on in the pandemic in the United States.
In the last month or so though, cases have spiked dramatically in Moffat County, putting a pinch on MRH and its COVID unit.
“It’s very concerning right now,” said Andy Daniels, MRH’s Chief Executive Officer. “I think currently 48 of the 50 states in the Union are in the red for spikes in COVID cases, so I’m concerned. I’m concerned for the entire healthcare system.”
Hospitals that typically take MRH’s sicker, more critical patients are currently at capacity or near capacity, Riley said. Unlike the COVID-19 patients MRH saw in March and April, the hospital is currently seeing sicker patients, and most of them are between the ages of 40-60. Stays in the COVID unit are currently averaging between three and five days, and four of the current six COVID-19 patients are less than 59 years of age, Riley said.
“If we become full in our COVID unit, we’re going to have to try and transfer those patients to other locations, and we don’t know what those locations may be at this time,” Riley added. “It’s a dynamic situation that changes throughout the day and night, so it’s very concerning.”
MRH still has the capacity at this time to admit non-COVID positive patients who have medical needs that MRH can address in-house. However, patients requiring critical, high-level intensive care will need to transfer, if possible, to a higher level of care. The problem though, is that St. Mary’s in Grand Junction is at capacity, as are hospitals on the Front Range.
That leaves MRH in a tough spot when it comes to providing care to COVID patients.
“We’re admitting as fast as we’re discharging right now in the COVID unit,” Riley said. “We’re fine on the medical side…we have the capacity for a surge there at the moment, but where we’re most concerned is with staffing.”
According to Riley, the COVID unit at MRH has its own separate staffing so as to not cross contaminate within the hospital itself. Knowing that the COVID unit needs its own staffing of at least 2-3 medical workers per COVID patient has created a real strain on the staff.
“These patients back in the COVID unit require extra care; they’re sicker than your regular med-surge patients,” Riley said. “It takes a lot of staffing to manage those patients, so that means we have less staff on the floor to care for non-COVID patients.
“We’re able to provide the care, but where we run the risk right now is running our employees down, getting those people sick. Adding a staff shortage on top of a bed shortage is very concerning for us.”
“We’re doing the best we can right now,” Daniels added. “I wish there was something I could tell you that we’re doing, but there really isn’t. There are some states that are mandating nurses come back to work – even if they’re positive. We’re not there yet; we’re doing the best we can. There’s just no magic for any of the staff, not just in the COVID unit.
“I think the staff overall is tired, end to end, to be honest,” Daniels added. “There’s a lot of stress. We try to be as encouraging as possible and make sure they have the equipment they need, but there’s only so much we can do.”
While MRH remains focused on how it can treat COVID-19-positive patients, the healthcare system is also looking at how it can manage the care of other patients who are sick or require critical care.
MRH says it is currently working to determine the capabilities for “lateral” transfers should more COVID-19 patients present beyond their capacity.
“We’re able to transfer patients laterally to other hospitals to give them the same level of care,” Daniels said. “But what we can’t do at the moment is transfer them to a higher level of care. Transferring patients laterally would be our next step if we do become full; there are beds available for lateral levels of care in lateral facilities.”
Daniels was quick to add that it’s not just COVID concerns when it comes to transferring patients. The concern, overall, has to do with the healthcare system being overwhelmed overall.
“The real concern is if you show up to the hospital and you need an acute level of care for something, and we can’t transfer you to higher level of care; that’s the scary part,” Daniels said. “We’ll obviously do the best we can to treat you here, but it’s so very concerning not just for us here, but for the entire healthcare system across the country.”
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