COLORADO SPRINGS — As COVID-19 patients continue to surge into the city’s hospital beds, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers toured the hospital and took part in its daily briefing in order to understand the problems health care providers are facing.
“It’s so sad to see people isolated, on ventilators, and, in many cases, in their last days with virtually no communication with their families. It is a very, very sobering sight,” Mayor Suthers said in a press conference after his tour.
Mayor Suthers said six people had died of COVID in the 24 hours leading up to his tour, the second day that has happened in the county.
The visit comes as total hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in El Paso County breach 230 for the first time, a one-week increase of 17%. The 14-day rolling average of patients shows a more drastic increase of 41.7% reaching 180.9 as of Tuesday, according to the El Paso County Public Health COVID Data Dashboard.
“It’s a burden on doctors, but I tell you, you only have to spend a few minutes in a hospital to understand the real burden is on our nurses,” Mayor Suthers said.
Nurses, according to UCHealth Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Steinbruner are responsible for the bulk of patient care which often includes going beyond their medical needs. He said nurses are often at the bedside of COVID patients as their lone source of human interaction for some patients and sometimes the last ones they see.
“We are asking them to do something that they’ve never experienced before,” Steinbruner said.”Watch patients that they can’t make better sometimes, that die in front of them despite their best efforts. That really wears on people.”
The staffing for care of COVID patients continues to be an issue that Steinbruner has highlighted for weeks now. The only ICU beds the hospital has left are the ones they are able to create from other units in the hospital. Moving staff to the ICU is difficult because working in the unit requires an extra level of expertise, according to Steinbruner.
“We’re already strained and we’re already surging into units that aren’t usually the ICU units. We’re already moving staff around, we’re already eliminating surgeries we don’t think are absolutely necessary,” he said. “If we don’t do something now as individuals to stop this spread, we’re going to pat for it into the Christmas month.
Mayor Suthers worries the number of deaths in the county could double in that time without any changes.
Steinbruner and the mayor urged people to limit their Thanksgiving celebrations to just their household as large gatherings now will create an even worse reality in hospitals that could lead to some patients needing to be cared for outside of the buildings walls, like at field hospitals.
Mayor Suthers is heeding his own advice and plans a “quiet” Thanksgiving at home Thursday. He believes personal acts like this are more effective than the restrictions the State of Colorado has doled out on counties. He said when looking at the data, those restrictions have not led to decreasing cases nor hospitalizations.
“I don’t know if there’s much more for government to do other than the complete shutdown and I understand there are incredible ramifications for mental health and, obviously, economic health,” Mayor Suthers added.
As the 14-day average of daily admissions rose from 13.64 last week to 18.29 this week (+34%), Steinbruner said it’s up to people on how much burden they want to put on the community’s doctors, nurses, and other health care workers.
“I don’t know where the threshold is for our society, for our community to say it’s worth the economic pain to shut down so we don’t get there. They have to tell us how much they’re willing to let us take it on the chin,” Steinbruner explained.