Aspen Valley Hospital low on COVID-19 cases but preps for statewide surge |

Aspen Valley Hospital low on COVID-19 cases but preps for statewide surge

Aspen Valley Hospital is reporting light to moderate volumes of patient traffic related to the coronavirus, but members of its executive team are readying for a surge at the state’s larger hospitals that would impact local operations.

One possibility being discussed is the 25-bed Aspen hospital receiving “less acute” COVID-19 patients in the event of a surge, while Valley Hospital in Glenwood Springs would absorb the more severe local cases if hospitals in Denver and Grand Junction reach operational and patient capacity, according to AVH Chief Transformation Officer Elaine Gerson.

Speaking at the hospital board of director’s monthly meeting Monday during a video-conference call, Gerson said that is one scenario the area’s four hospitals — Aspen, Valley View in Glenwood Springs, Grand River in Rifle and Vail Health — have considered while examining their local roles in the greater COVID-19 pandemic.

The four regional hospitals, Gerson said, “look at each other as a pod, if you will, on how do we manage the patients in this area when we look at who’s got what resources and what’s needed, and if Denver reaches a surge and they can’t take our transfer patients, or St. Mary’s in Grand Junction reaches a surge and they can’t take our patients, what do we do in that event of something like that? We’ve been in discussions every day for the past couple of weeks in looking at where our capacity has been in each of these hospitals.”

The state is looking at four tiers of patients under a scenario where a patient surge occurs.

Tier 1 patients would be considered critical and in need of ICU care, while Tier 2 patients could be treated at a critical-access hospital such as AVH. The tiers’ definitions were set by the Colorado Unified Command Center.

“Our more acute patients might need to go to Valley View and we might need to take their less acute patients off of their hands,” Gerson said of what might happen if Grand Junction and Front Range hospitals are maximized.

Tier 3 patients under a surge scenario would be those who are healing and placed in an alternative medical sites such as an arena or convention center, for example.

The four regional hospitals also have been in talks with Colorado Mountain College officials about using its Spring Valley campus dormitories as a Tier 4 facility for managing the discharge of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, Gerson said.

“Lots of things are happening on the planning side,” she said.

As the coronavirus pandemic has ushered in unprecedented challenges to the medical community both locally and globally, it also has exposed vulnerabilities in America’s health care infrastructures.

“We’re all learning about this brand new disease together,” Dr. Catherine Bernard, AVH chief of staff, told the board.

AVH officials, however, said patient admissions are relatively low for COVID-19 cases.

As of 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, two COVID-19 patients were currently hospitalized in Aspen, while a total of four AVH patients had been transferred to other medical facilities for care, according to Jennifer Slaughter, AVH’s director of community relations,

Through the end of Monday, Pitkin County had 49 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Public Environment, which also reported 468 confirmed cases in Eagle County and 59 in Garfield County.

The numbers, however, don’t accurately reflect the true number of people afflicted with the virus because of the limited number of locally administered tests.

Pitkin County’s COVID-19 symptom-monitoring page reported 340 responses through 4 p.m. Tuesday, as well. The county established the symptom tracker to “help us gain greater clarity on the types of symptoms experienced by our community and areas of impact. This will also help us align response resources in Pitkin County and evaluate strategies to decrease the spread of illness,” the system-monitoring website says.

At one point, about 5% to 6% of AVH’s staff, or 30 individuals, reported having COVID-19-related symptoms, said Alicia Miller, who runs the hospital’s human resources department.

Eighteen AVH employees, or 4%, currently say they have symptoms.

“Most are at home and are able to work from home,” Miller said.

The hospital technically is in lockdown mode for health-safety reasons, with the building’s east entrance the sole way to get in for non-emergent patients. New fathers are the only relatives from the outside allowed inside the hospital to see newborns, and the hospital’s cafeteria and gift shop are closed.

“We feel very comfortable that we are providing a safe and secure environment for our physicians and staff and our patients, most importantly, who need our services,” said David Ressler, hospital CEO.

Aspen Valley Hospital has set up a respiratory tent for in-person visits that can be made by referral only. Officials emphasized walk-ups won’t be accepted without a referral from their primary care physician.

“You have to have an appointment to get into the tent,” said Lori Maloy, the hospital’s chief clinical officer. “It’s not a walk-in tent.”

The tent, located near the hospital entrance, is open from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays, and from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Those without a primary care doctor can call Aspen Valley Hospital Primary Care at 970-279-4111. The doctor there could make a referral or suggest measures the patient takes individually at home, Bernard said.

Ressler and his fellow department heads said the community’s encouragement has been inspiring. The Aspen Valley Hospital’s Emergency Fund has received $892,000 in donations over the past few weeks, said Deborah Breen, president and CEO of the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation, the fundraising organization for AVH.

Donated masks and neck gaiters also have poured in from Aspen Skiing Co., Sport Obermeyer, Aspen Meadows and Hazelton Construction, among others, Breen said. One person bought a lunch for the entire hospital staff one day.

Ressler noted that residential neighbors of AVH often stand outside during the facility’s shift change with posters offering words of encouragement and appreciation.

“The amount of work that has taken place since March 9, I couldn’t be more proud of, and I am privileged to be part of the incident management team,” he said. “They have truly performed at the highest level.”

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