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Mesa County Public Health says no ICU beds available

Health officials in the western Colorado county said all area hospitals will begin operating at 'surge capacity.'

MESA COUNTY, Colo. — There are currently no ICU beds available in Mesa County and area hospitals are reaching "critical thresholds for capacity and staffing" due to COVID-19, Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) said Thursday.

MCPH monitors hospital capacity and bed use and said as of Wednesday, Nov. 18, there were no ICU beds available.

All area hospitals will begin activating surge capacity to ensure additional rooms and beds are ready to use, the agency said. Officials said they're able to move to this new level of care due to 'a robust collaborative planning process' that has been in place since the start of the pandemic.

But 'full' doesn't mean closed for business. Surge capacity means finding room.

"Our normally-available ICU beds in four hospitals are full," said MCPH Executive Director Jeff Kuhr. "That’s half of what we could have available to us.

He continued,

"With the 50 that are full, we can access another 100 beds if necessary. But it's staffing as well." 

Transferring less acute or recovering patients is part of the plan, too. It already happened.

"We had some situations where we had to transport away from one hospital to another to utilize med surge," Kuhr explained.

ICU capacity can change daily depending on patient turnover.

MCPH plans to roll out an online tool as early as Friday that gives the community regular updates on hospital bed space.

RELATED: Colorado coronavirus latest numbers, Nov. 19

“St. Mary’s, like other healthcare facilities across the nation, has been and continues to be impacted by COVID-19 as cases continue to rise in Mesa County,” said Bryan Johnson, president of St. Mary’s Medical Center. “We have hospital beds available, and we have surge plans in place that will allow us to grow capacity and ensure safe, quality care to as many patients as need us.

"We all have a role to play in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Please be proactive and do your part to take the necessary precautions. Wash your hands, wear a mask and continue to practice social distancing.” 

More than 2,000 cases have been reported among Mesa County residents during the past two weeks, according to MCPH. Approximately one in 130 people in Mesa County has COVID-19, based on current testing data, health officials said.

RELATED: US hospitals overwhelmed with new coronavirus cases

That means in a week, if you encounter 20 people a day outside of your household, you are likely to be in contact with someone who has COVID-19.

“Widespread community transmission has had an impact on long-term care facilities, the jail and our homeless population, often through staff who pick the virus up in the community. Hospital employees are being impacted too and if hospital staff are isolated due to illness, they’re not able to care for patients,” Kuhr said.

Mesa County health officials said there is an urgent need for staffing in local hospitals.

"We are definitely feeling the pinch with staffing," said Dr. Thomas Tobin, the Chief Medical Officer for Community Hospital in Grand Junction. He said 10-20% of the staff has been affected by COVID in the last month.

"Primarily because some of our staff are getting sick. Their family members at home are getting COVID, they're getting exposed, they get sick, and they can't, obviously, come into work."

Community Hospital has about 44-52 beds under normal circumstances, Tobin said. The hospital has started "Tier 1" of a four-tier surge plan. At this point, Tier 1 means isolating beds for COVID patients. The tiers increase to more significant changes, like adding beds. Tier 4, Tobin said, would increase the hospital to 70 beds.

“This is a call to arms,” VA Western Colorado Health Care System Executive Director Richard Salgueiro said regarding staffing issues, encouraging all community retired or displaced clinical personnel to step in if possible.

Hospitalizations are increasing across the state, and could soon face capacity limits, too. 

"It, literally, was like flipping a switch for us," said Tobin, the Community Hospital CMO. "Last week at this time we felt pretty good. Then Monday came around and it was here."

Hospitals have been preparing for this scenario for months. Tobin said he's proud of the Western Slope hospitals working together. 

For communities around the state watching the Mesa County developments, knowing they could be in the same situation soon, he offers this:

"Each individual out there makes a difference. Them doing the right thing then helps us help the rest of community. Any one of us doing the right things then allows there to be the resources and staff, God forbid, take care of our own loved ones that might be afflicted with this infection ," he said.

"I need everyone to do their small part. That’s not just additive, that’s a multiplying effect."

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