Q and A: facts of the COVID surge at hospital in Alamosa

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ALAMOSA – COVID cases continue to surge in the San Luis Valley with staff at SLV Regional Medical Center (SLVRMC) battling the virus on several fronts. Health care staff are providing medical care for those patients with COVID who are in serious, sometimes critical, condition while administrative staff work to provide the public with facts about the virus and its impact on hospital operations.

Donna Wehe, communications director for SLV Health, recently provided answers to some of the more common questions the public has about how the local hospital is handling this crisis that, after almost two years, continues to rage.

Q: What is the capacity at SLV Regional Medical Center?

A: San Luis Valley Health’s Regional Medical Center has 6 ICU beds and can flex to 8 beds if needed and have the appropriate staff.

Q: What is the difference between an ICU bed and a regular Med/Surg bed?

Wehe: The main difference is the level of care that is provided. An ICU bed means there is a higher level of care that is supported by a different staffing model, depending upon the condition of the patient. Assisting nurses are techs, CNAs, and other staff.

COVID-19 is a highly transmissible disease.

Q: What precautions are being taken to keep other patients in the hospital being infected with COVID?

Wehe: Ambulances, hospital rooms, equipment, and even air transport, must be deep cleaned and disinfected at the highest level between each patient. In the spring of 2020, there were adaptions made to some of the rooms at the RMC, both in the ICU wing and in the Med/Surge wing, to create Negative Pressure Rooms. This helps with airflow, isolating respiratory particles, and creates a safer environment and working conditions.

The other hospitals in the SLV, Rio Grande Hospital and SLVH’s Conejos County Hospital, agreed that patients who tested positive for COVID and needed to be hospitalized would be transferred to the RMC in Alamosa.

Q: Are hospital procedures keeping up with the accelerating number of patients being admitted with COVID?

Wehe: This process has been working well up until about mid-October of 2021, when the numbers of COVID positive patients and other non-COVID patients needing higher levels of care surged across the state of Colorado, causing the RMC to experience challenges with transferring patients out. It has been unprecedented and unrelenting at this point, and just two days ago the RMC transferred two patients to Kansas, where there was bed availability. The hours, and sometimes now it’s days, for a patient waiting to be transferred from our Emergency Department (ED) has increased.

The number of deaths that staff is experiencing right now is at all-time highs. Four out of five COVID-positive patients are unvaccinated, with more breakthrough cases every day. A breakthrough case is defined by the CDC as someone who is fully vaccinated against COVID but then contracts a COVID infection.*

Q: Why is there confusion about who died from COVID and who died from other causes?

Wehe: Statistics get complicated in dealing with all the different variables such as COVID deaths versus COVID-related deaths. People are not a one size fits all. COVID can exacerbate underlying medical conditions or debilitate a young, healthy person. Patients who come through the ED will get tested for COVID if they are going to be admitted or transferred, or if they are having COVID symptoms.

Q: What new procedures are staff at SLVRMC putting in place to take care of patients with COVID plus other patients who need medical care:

Wehe: At both the RMC and CCH, the nursing leadership put into practice a new position called the House Supervisor. One of the morning and late afternoon duties is to update a dashboard called the Census Report so leadership and other department heads can keep tabs on the situation with staffing, bed needs, and where the gaps might be. This communication tool helps the surgeons in planning the non-life-threatening procedures, based on the prediction that the patient may need to be hospitalized, and will the staff and beds be available, or should they delay that particular operation.

Q: Just how bad is the situation, really? Some people in the public are saying different – sometimes conflicting – things, with some people suggesting it really isn’t that bad.

Wehe: The census report on 11/18/2021 shows that of the 6 ICU beds, 4 of the patients were COVID positive. On 11/19/2021 our census showed that there were no COVID rooms available in the RMC, no ICU beds available, and only 4 Med/Surge available when this article was written.

One day ago, nine COVID-positive patients entered the Emergency Department all at the same time. The census changes from one minute to the next.

Q: Is this stressful for the staff? How are the staff handling this situation?

Wehe: They are frustrated when there is no place to transfer patients. They are sad when they see their friends and neighbors lose loved ones. They are resilient. They are tired. They care. They are here for you. They ask you to please do your part in helping prevent the spread of this disease by wearing a mask, practicing good hygiene at all times, avoiding indoor crowded events, getting the vaccines (both COVID and flu), and treating others with respect at all times.

To see these responses and other news from SLV Health, go to their blog at Facts of Current COVID surge in Alamosa Hospital (sanluisvalleyhealth.org)

Written by Donna Wehe, Director of Communications at SLVH, with input from Leadership and Nursing.

* https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/effectiveness/why-measure-effectiveness/breakthrough-cases.html

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death. Most people who get COVID-19 are unvaccinated. However, since vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, some people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19. An infection of a fully vaccinated person is referred to as a “vaccine breakthrough infection.”

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