More than 458 patients with COVID-19 infections have already recovered and have been able to leave UCHealth hospitals throughout Colorado. As of mid-April and about 250 other patients continue to receive care.
UCHealth has tested more than 10,500 people for COVID-19 and recently expanded testing for first responders and other health care workers. Of the more than 458 patients who have recovered well enough to leave the hospital, more than 63 patients were in UCHealth’s southern Colorado hospitals, 237 were cared for in metro Denver hospitals, and 158 were treated in northern Colorado hospitals.
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Social distancing remains the most important thing Coloradans can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Our numbers of hospitalized patients remain near record highs, but we’re beginning to see some positive trends,” said Dr. Richard Zane, UCHealth’s chief innovation officer and executive director of emergency services.
“The rate of increase of new cases has slowed, and our number of hospitalized patients is growing more slowly, but it is essential that Coloradans continue to practice social distancing. The minute we let up, we will likely see cases spike again,” Zane said.
Zane and other public health experts urge all Coloradans to keep taking precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. These precautions will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Colorado.
In Intensive Care Units throughout UCHealth hospitals, the battle against COVID-19 is centered on a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, first described by groundbreaking University of Colorado pulmonologist Dr. Tom Petty in 1967.
In patients with ARDS, the tiny air sacs in the lungs called alveoli fill with fluid. The fluid makes it hard for oxygen to get into the blood system, and that can result in respiratory failure. Some of the causes of ARDS include sepsis, pneumonia, trauma and now COVID-1, said Dr. Marc Moss, head of the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
These patients often require a ventilator or an ECMO – extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – machine that pumps blood out of the body, where its oxygenated, and then delivered back to the body. It allows the heart and lungs to rest.
While there are no specific treatments for COVID-19, UCHealth doctors have begun transfusing convalescent plasma to critically ill patients. An investigational treatment, critically ill patients receive plasma containing antibodies from blood donated by those who have tested positive for COVID, have recovered and are eligible to donate blood. The FDA has authorized use of this experimental treatment.
A March 27 article in JAMA, indicated that five patients treated in China with convalescent plasma showed improvement in their clinical status. The article says that the limited sample size of the study – 5 patients – “preclude a definitive statement about the potential effectiveness of this treatment, and these observations require evaluation in clinical trials.’’
In the Intensive Care Unit at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus, Olivia Thornton, associate nurse manager, said the situation changes in the ICU by the minute.
“These patients are extremely sick, and their acuity is very high,’’ she said. “These patients require a huge amount of care, and we have to be very diligent around our PPE use, taking it on and off appropriately to avoid contaminating ourselves. That adds a layer of stress for the staff.’’
UCHealth has seen patients who are as young as 19 and those in their 80s. The hospitals have seen a fair number of patients in their 30s and 40s.
“These patients can crash so fast. In the ICU, you will usually see a patient gradually decompensating. In these cases, a patient may be fine one minute and not the next. It happens so fast and staff have to be ready to intervene at any moment. They are truly the sickest patients in our organization,” Thornton said.
Since visitors are not allowed in UCHealth hospitals, though there are a few exceptions, a lack of family members at the bedside is a complicating factor.
“We often rely on family for information. They are there to reassure the patient. And now, we are fielding a lot of calls from concerned family members. Understandably, they are worried,’’ she said. “Patients who are not intubated, are terrified and alone.’’
The time required to care for patients medically and emotionally requires a huge commitment from staffers. But chaplains, nurses and other are stepping up to keep patients as well as possible, while also tending to their family members and giving them regular updates.
“The staff are there for the patients, and are there to be the support person that they don’t have,’’ Thornton said. “From a staff perspective, I’ve seen incredible resilience. Everyone wants to be here to help these patients. We want to be here, and we’re doing everything we can to help these patients go home.’’
UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital began to see a rise in the number of patients starting about a month ago.
Having hundreds of people recover well enough to go home has been a huge victory for everyone on the medical teams, from environmental services workers to nurses, doctors and others.
Leaders at UCHealth make round through the hospitals to support staff and answer questions from employees from all backgrounds – nursing, respiratory therapy, environmental and food services.
Said Kailey Yost, a registered nurse at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, “You can approach this two different ways. You can panic and worry or you can get psyched up. This is our time to shine. When we went to nursing school, we all knew this could happen.’’