STERLING, Colo. — A big jump in COVID-19 cases is placing stress on hospitals and eldercare facilities in northeastern Colorado.
"We're seeing a significant increase," said Mike Burnett, the COVID-19 response coordinator at the Northeast Colorado Health Department, which covers Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington and Yuma Counties.
He said 45% of the cases they've dealt with since the pandemic began have occurred in the last month or so.
Burnett said there are now 25 patients in that six-county district, up from nine a week ago.
He said there is a big concern about front range hospitals reporting impending ICU bed shortages.
"This has already caused issues for local hospitals trying to transfer COVID-19 patients to a higher level of care," he said."In one instance, it took the facility about eight hours of looking around to try to find another facility that would accept them. In another, it took about four hours to find a receiving facility... which was actually clear down in Colorado Springs."
Burnett said the outbreak, which began six weeks ago at Devonshire Acres, a long-term care facility in Sterling, has taken a toll.
It's not just residents who have tested positive — several staff members have tested positive too.
He said they're in isolation either because they're ill, or are asymptomatic.
That, of course, has led to a staffing shortage, which in turn has put more pressure on remaining staff.
Some are working 12-, sometimes 18-hour shifts, seven days a week because there is no one else available.
"Fatigue set in," Burnett said. "No relief was found in spite of searching with local and state partners for outside agency nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants."
He said that wasn't healthy for staff, nor safe for patients and that the situation became so dire that an emergency meeting was held between Devonshire Acres and 35 representatives from state and local agencies.
"They quickly developed plans to decompress the facility and provide much needed relief to the remaining staff by temporarily moving some of the COVID-19 residents to area hospitals," Burnett said.
He said Melissa Memorial Hospital in Holyoke and East Morgan County Hospital in Brush, graciously agreed to accept those transfers.
On Nov. 5, an effort spearheaded by the Northeast RETAC (Regional EMS & Trauma Advisory Council) — which coordinated with Holyoke EMS, Haxtun Health EMS, City of Yuma EMS, Sterling Fire & Rescue, and Morgan County Ambulance — set up transport for about a dozen residents to the two receiving hospitals.
Crook Fire Department, Sedgwick County Ambulance and Banner Health Paramedics were also placed in stand-by status, but ultimately not tasked for assistance.
"All of these residents have been appropriately isolated at both hospitals and are being cared for using all of the precautions that are necessary for COVID-19 patients," Burnett said.
He also had some words of advice for the general public.
"With the holidays coming up, we just want people to try to do the right thing. Try to find ways to reduce or eliminate potential exposure risk because somewhere, 45% of people who are positive for COVID are asymptomatic, and could potentially be spreading it without knowing," he said.
He posted on Facebook that NCHD also wants everyone to realize that actions have consequences.
"Outbreaks inside of long-term care facilities are an extension of what is going on in our communities," he said. "For every new case, there is an increased risk to loved ones among us who are most vulnerable. This clearly illustrates the need for all of us to step up and make the right decisions, to lead by example, and most importantly to choose smartly about the group activities you wish to participate in, especially with the holidays soon approaching. Wear a face covering, practice good social distancing, wash your hands."