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Colorado Springs hospitals facing capacity concerns amid COVID-19 surge

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, Colorado Springs hospitals are stretched thin.

KRDO toured Centura's Penrose Hospital early Tuesday morning to get an idea of what they're dealing with amid these rising case numbers. As of Tuesday morning, Penrose Hospital had around 420 in-patients. 375 of them are adults. Roughly 75 of them are COVID-positive -- and of those, 85-90% are unvaccinated.

The rise in case numbers is causing a strain on the hospital system, including the following potential issues.

They've cancelled or postponed elective surgeries to free up hospital capacity

The CEO of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Dr. Brian Erling, told KRDO that they don't have the capacity to continue many elective surgeries right now. They've had to pause those procedures to be able to care for patients with immediate medical needs. Just because procedures can be labeled as elective, it doesn't mean they aren't serious.

"If you're the spine patient that needs to have spine surgery to stop your opioid use and get you back to work, that's serious. Now, Can it wait a couple of weeks? That's a conversation between the patient and the doctor," Dr. Erling said.

Labor shortage is burning out existing healthcare workers

The sheer amount of stress placed on healthcare workers amid the pandemic has forced much of their workforce to either leave healthcare and pursue another field or retire early.

"Another issue that has compounded our shortage is that kids had to stay home from school. So many of our working moms and dads stayed home to homeschool, so that added another layer," said Penrose's Chief Nursing Officer Rose Ann Scibona.

Scibona, who's worked in nursing at Penrose for roughly 40 years, said the shortage is making the competition for experienced nurses especially aggressive, meaning it's harder to hire and retain talented nurses. They've had to bring in healthcare staff from all over the country, and they're now even looking at bringing in nursing staff from other countries.

Centura has tried to incentivize their staff to take extra shifts, they've even raised wages across the board to become more competitive -- but they're still facing staffing shortages.

Governor Jared Polis' new mandate requiring healthcare workers to get the vaccine could force unit closures

Roughly 700 of their healthcare workers in Centura's Colorado Springs hospitals have not submitted proof of vaccination to their employer. With the procedural steps in place moving forward, Dr. Erling said they have until November 1st, 2021 to submit that proof, or receive approval of their medical or religious exemption, or they will be forced to resign per the state mandate. Roughly a third of those workers have submitted exemptions, but they have to receive approval.

Dr. Erling said they want to work with staff as much as possible to avoid losing any of their workers, especially amid the labor shortage. That being said, they have to follow state rules. Losing hundreds of their staff could force them to close units in their hospitals. It could also force longer wait times in their hospitals. Even last week, their ER wait times extended up to 18 hours in some cases. Losing even more staff could exacerbate the problem. It could also further limit their ability to perform in-patient procedures.

He knows he sounds like a broken record, but Penrose's CEO is urging everyone to get the vaccine

Dr. Erling said that if everyone in this region had the vaccine, it would be a game-changer for our hospitals.

"This is a disease that really does affect everybody," Dr. Erling said. "Just being young [and] healthy is not enough. We have multiple, multiple examples of people who are healthy, who are young, who are unvaccinated, who get the disease and pass away. And that's, that's just a tragedy. That's avoidable."

Recent booster shot approval prompted new vaccine clinics for healthcare workers

Last week's FDA and CDC approval of the Pfizer booster shot for high-risk individuals paved the way for Penrose to open a clinic starting on Tuesday to allow their healthcare workers to receive a third dose of the vaccine. Dr. Erling received his booster shot while KRDO toured Penrose on Tuesday.

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Sydnee Stelle

Sydnee is an MMJ for KRDO NewsChannel 13. You can learn more about her here.

Comments

9 Comments

  1. How about some real investigative reporting. Provide some statistical comparatives. Some historical staffing numbers. Some numbers on how many Dr. and nurses have left, how many are normally on duty……an article that actually involves some knowledge of journalism!

    1. Totally agree, everything they say in this is anecdotal. That weird comment about optics was strange too. Young healthy people don’t die from covid. Period. It’s a cold. If you’re fat and unhealthy then yes it’ll probably kill you, and you have it coming, people were never meant to be fat. You should live like Healthcare doesn’t exist.

      1. The current hospitalizations are more than double what they were at this time last year, according to the link you shared.

        1. I went to that link and read the covid stats and they are simply dropping. Where do you see that it’s double??

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