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Southwest Memorial Hospital Staffing, Capacity Stressed By Coronavirus Surge

Austin Cope

Like many medical facilities in the United States, Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez has been stretched to capacity during the ongoing COVID-19 surge. According to Marc Meyer with Southwest Health System, approximately a dozen hospital staff have recently tested positive for the virus. Although their exposures were found to have occurred outside of the hospital, the resulting staff shortages have added to the challenges the hospital is facing.

KSJD’s Austin Cope spoke with Meyer on Wednesday to learn more about the current impacts of the surge on local health care. 

Note: Southwest Health System is an underwriter of KSJD.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Austin Cope, KSJD: As we know, the hospital is still currently under visitor restrictions. If you could, just give us a picture [of] what things are looking like on the hospital floor with the current COVID surge.

Marc Meyer, Southwest Health System: Sure, we can do that. This week, we’ve been running approximately full in our bed surge unit. The emergency room saw 40 cases on Monday. That’s quite a volume for them, and our walk-in clinic saw 23 cases on Monday. It’s not just all COVID – it’s everything that’s coming in. Right now, our OB department has been moved back up into the old hospital. We’ve opened the COVID unit that can take up to 13 patients inside the new OB area in the new wing, and we’re also walling off two same-day-care rooms so we can have emergency room overflow in there. [We’re] getting ready to, on Monday, change out how people coming in for labs ... flow. So, it’s relatively busy, and we’ve had as high as nine COVID patients in the last 10 days a day.

Cope: Nine COVID patients per day in the last 10 days?

Meyer: Per day, yes.

Cope: Based on your expertise in infectious diseases, can you comment on the response from elected officials and local governments. How much [it] is supporting the hospital at this time?

Meyer: I don’t have a lot of comment on that, because my job here at the hospital is to control infections and to treat the patients that come in. But I do believe that we could use some more support from local elected officials as far as mask-wearing and things like that in Montezuma County.

Cope: From an epidemiological perspective, when you’re looking at how the virus is currently spreading in the community, how is that matching your expectations before this surge hit, and what you may have been warning about this summer?

Meyer: Yeah, we’ve been warning about this since last March. So, at some point, we were going to have this surge. And that’s why we were emphasizing mask-wearing, hand-washing, you know, basic fundamentals of infection control. And right now, in our area, we’re getting pretty much community-wide spread, which means you don’t know who has it. So, any one-on-one time you spend in close contact with somebody without a mask on that’s not [from] your immediate household, there’s a certain danger to getting COVID … Epidemiologists from the state of Colorado just a week or so ago said that one in 49 people in Colorado have COVID, and we just don’t know who those are. And that would really fit what we’re seeing in the national picture also.

Cope: What support, from your perspective, do you need from the community? Whether that’s elected officials or anybody in the community. What do you – as well as the hospital staff you work with – need?

Meyer: I think what we really need to turn this uptick down right now is people wearing their masks, people washing their hands, people social distancing as much as they can. Don’t gather in groups. You know, just like we did back in March, April, May [and] June, to cut down on the number of people exposed to COVID. If we can get that and we can turn this around, and we see downward trends, that would be what we’re looking for. We do know that the vaccine is coming. We do know we’re starting to make plans locally to deploy those, and that should help some. But we still need to do the basic things for infection control that we’ve talked about numerous times to really turn this back towards a downward trend instead of an upward trend. I would also caution people that, when you start seeing data – probably in the next couple days – that show there was a slight downward trend over the [Thanksgiving] holiday, remember that the people reporting and the people working on developing that data also took some days off. So there’s going to be a lag before you see that increase again.

Cope: Okay, that’s good to know as we look at this upcoming data. That’s Marc Meyer, pharmacy, infection control, and infusion director with Southwest Health System. Thank you so much – I know you’re busy – we really appreciate the time.

Meyer: Thanks, Austin.