Southwest Health System CEO Tony Sudduth reported this week that Southwest Memorial Hospital had reached full capacity, as positive cases of the coronavirus continued to rise in Montezuma County.
As of Dec. 16, there have been 1,028 positive cases since the pandemic began, up from 762 cases on Dec. 2, a 35% increase. There are 601 active cases, and 414 have recovered.
Also this week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment elevated Dolores County to Level Orange on COVID-19 risk assessment dial as the number of positive cases Dec. 17 increased to 45, up from 24 positive cases Dec. 2, an increase of 88%.
In a Dec. 15 status report, Sudduth said the hospital reached full capacity Dec. 14, with 21 patients, 11 of which are hospitalized because of COVID-19. Adjustments were made to allow for additional capacity and to continue scheduled surgeries, he said, and SHS has a plan to expand up to 38-bed capacity, but staffing would become a challenge with the additional patients.
In late November, the hospital reported a staffing shortage as a result of 36 staff members that had tested positive or had an exposure resulting in quarantine.
“At that point, we did some very straightforward education with our staff on the importance of maintaining precautions even outside of work,” Sudduth said. “Since that time, we have seen a significant reduction in issues with only a few outlying incidents at present.”
A downward trend in emergency room use is a concern, Sudduth said. People who need care may be avoiding help because of the pandemic crisis.
“We know that people still have medical needs beyond COVID and want to make sure people continue to get needed medical care. Not doing so can have devastating health effects,” he said.
Southwest Memorial has put in place protective measures at every level of the hospital and clinic to assure that people who need care they are entering a safe environment, Sudduth said.
He encouraged the public to get on board with pandemic safety precautions of wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding large crowds, and frequent hand washing.
“We remain concerned about what lies ahead,” Sudduth said, especially with an additional spike in cases that the Christmas holiday could bring.
A concerted effort to reduce the spread will control the rate of increase and prevent the CDPHE from moving the county to the more restrictive Level Red, oficials said, which would prohibit indoor restaurant dining.
“I do not advocate another full shutdown. I do not believe it is effective to shut down the small businesses and allow the bigger stores to continue on, some without regard to recommended precautions,” Sudduth said in the statement.
“The solution to slow the spread continues to be universally following precautions,” he said. “It is only when this community accepts this fact that we will see this start to turn around.”
Even though the vaccine process is starting, it is not likely there will be a significant impact until late summer 2021 at the earliest and that will be contingent upon a significant number of the community actually choosing to receive the vaccine.
“I will once again plead with the people of Montezuma County to please take this seriously and follow the recommended precautions so we can get this turned around,” Sudduth said.
“This is not a political request, it’s a logical request. We can’t continue down this path or the state will move the community to Level Red. We already meet that criteria, and the only thing that will prevent it is showing improvement. That’s not a hospital decision, a local (Montezuma County Health Department) decision, or a local leadership decision, the CDPHE has that ability to do that, and will if we do not see progress immediately. It is up to you as a community to avoid it.”