Situation “fragile” at SLVRMHC and Conejos County Hospital

New cases of COVID from March 2020 to September 2021. “Epidemiology update September 14, 2021. Source: SLVHMRC

Could become dire if conditions worsen

ALAMOSA — Recently, a statement made in a local public meeting by someone allegedly familiar with the status of SLV Health Regional Medical Center (SLVHRMC) discounted the degree to which the hospital is being impacted by the health crisis.

An inquiry sent to SLVHRMC prompted a contradictory and sobering response from the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Hernandez, who has been in that position since November of 2018.

“San Luis Valley Health Regional Medical Center and Conejos County Hospital report that the situation today at our facilities is fragile. We are having difficulty transferring patients to a higher level of care due to high volume of patients in other locations,” he says, referring to the practice of transferring seriously ill SLV Health patients to hospitals in El Paso County or Children’s Hospital in Denver.

Dr. Hernandez’s concern is backed up by, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette, “extremely worrisome” hospital capacity being reported in both El Paso County and at Children’s.

According to a report published in the Gazette on September 16 and updated on Tuesday, September 21, regional hospital capacity in El Paso County, including Colorado Springs, is “strained” with both Centura and UCHealth being forced to postpone surgeries.

“UCHealth’s hospitals in the Pikes Peak region continue to see record numbers of patients needing care for COVID and other health conditions,” states Dr. Steinbruner, Chief Medical Office for UCHealth.

Conditions are no better at Children’s Hospital in Denver.

“Officials with Children’s Hospital Colorado say they are facing additional stress with not only the transmissibility of the COVID-19 delta variant, but also with an early start to respiratory season, a pediatric mental health crisis and heightened demands on health care workers as more are choosing to leave the industry than ever before,” the Gazette reports.

The devastating impact of prolonged stress on health care workers at Children’s Hospital is echoed in Dr. Hernandez’s words. “Our staff is stretched thin caring for a high census of patients, both COVID positive and other patients,” he says. “If the acuity of COVID positive patients increases in our region, we could be in a dire situation quite rapidly.”

Recent data suggests that whether or not the situation becomes “dire” is still to be determined.

Currently, 89% of all ICU hospital beds in Colorado are occupied, a sharp uptick from just a few weeks ago and largely due to the Delta variant sweeping across the state.

That same increase is evident in the San Luis Valley. After three months of decline, data for the SLV contained in the epidemiology update from September 14 reveals that the number of COVID cases in the valley in September are similar to what they were in the holiday season from November 2020 to the first part of January in 2021, when a significant surge was coursing throughout the state. ,

Most concerning is that the Delta variant is now targeting children. A September 21 report from the SLV Office of Emergency Preparedness states that, during the week of September 12 to September 19, 40% of the new COVID cases were among people aged 19 and younger.

However, Delta is not only more contagious, it also leads to more severe illness and, in some cases, death.  That same epidemiology report states that the fatality rate among hospital patients in the valley is a stunning 30.7%.

The numbers paint a bleak picture. Increasing infection rates, younger individuals becoming infected, progress made in controlling the virus thwarted – to a degree – by a new and much more contagious and serious variant and a hospital system in the valley that is “fragile” with the potential to be in  “dire” condition “quite rapidly” if the situation worsens.

The remedy – promoted by doctors and scientists and confirmed by the data itself – points to one primary thing:  vaccinations.

Sadly, even the mention of the word will prompt (and has prompted) fierce, emotion-laden debate. But the data tells the clearest story of all.

In El Paso County -- where SLV patients are, in some cases, transferred for a higher level of care – of the 265 patients who were hospitalized, 227 were not vaccinated. Of the 98 patients in ICU, 87 were not vaccinated. Of the 86 people on ventilators, 78 were not vaccinated.

El Paso is not unique. The same story is told in Larimer County and numerous other counties, not just in Colorado but throughout the nation.

After warning about the potential for the situation to become dire, Dr. Hernandez repeated what has become the mantra of CDPHE, the Alamosa School District, numerous large businesses and other doctors, including Dr. Steinbruner of UC Health. “We recommend mask-wearing, limiting indoor gathering, and getting vaccinated to all who are eligible,” says Hernandez.

Currently, barely 50% of eligible people in the San Luis Valley have received one dose of the vaccine. A little over 45% have received both doses. And there are 148 known active cases.

To find local vaccine providers, please see www.slvphp.com/vaccination or call 719-480-8719. Most local providers offer confidential appointments, and some may accommodate walk-ins.

Mobile clinics for Pfizer and J&J vaccines will be held as listed below. Registration is encouraged but not required at https://www.mobilevax.us/southwest

Alamosa, SLV Early Childhood Council, 401 Santa Fe Ave, Sept 21,  12pm-7pm

La Jara Family Dollar, Wednesday September 22, 11am-7pm

Hooper, Hooper Junction Store across from the Post Office, September 23, 9am-12pm

Alamosa, Boyd Park, 410 12th St, September 23, 2pm-7pm

Antonito, parking lot at 310 Main St, Friday September 24, 10am-6pm

Alamosa, ASU Plachy Hall parking lot, September 28, 1pm-7pm

Valley-Wide Health Systems offers Moderna and J&J vaccines every Friday, 10am-2pm at the ASU Neilson Library parking lot in Alamosa.  Walk-ins are accepted, or call 719-587-9610 to schedule.

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