GVH prepares for a mid-April peak in COVID patients

Eight ventilators, ultraviolet light sanitizer and alternate care site

By Katherine Nettles

In a semi-annual Gunnison Valley Hospital board update to county commissioners on March 24, chief executive officer Rob Santilli and chief financial officer Mark Vanderveer covered a variety of timely subjects, including COVID-19 surge projections, preparations and costs.

Santilli started off the discussion with a story. “You’re all up to date on what’s been happening in the community. There’s a number of healthcare workers that are pretty uneasy about coming to work, about their own families and what things look like. And last Thursday, there must have been a group of people who mysteriously came outside the nursing home and the hospital with chalk. And they wrote all over the sidewalks, just messages of appreciation, messages of keeping us safe, messages of what a great job they’re doing. And it went through the hospital in kind of a viral nature, and people just came out and wanted to look at the sidewalk,” he said. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is…trying to think of what little things we can do just to keep their spirits up.”

COVID-19 preparations, and costs

Santilli said state health officials have communicated to GVH that COVID patient surges are projected to peak in mid-April, statewide, and that Denver is expected to be hit hardest. “They feel we are three weeks out from what we think would be the peak of a surge. So, we are walking through what a surge plan would look like,” he said.

Santilli reviewed how the hospital has stratified its systems to keep an organized method in place for both regular inpatients and, separately, COVID patients. That included adding negative pressure rooms for COVID patients, managing related equipment and ensuring that all employees are screened each day before going into any of the facilities: the hospital, nursing home and senior center. Anyone with any symptoms, however minor, is sent home.

There is a current staff shortage due to illness, he said. “We have three cooks who are out in the nursing home. So, we are looking to bring on some temporary staff for that. Hopefully there are some members in the community who could help us out temporarily and know how to cook.”

Nevertheless, he expressed that the hospital is equipped beyond “what we perceive to be needed in the next 30 days.” An alternative care site is in place at Fred Field Western Heritage Center in Gunnison. “If transportation is working well, we might transport patients outside of the county,” he said, perhaps moving COVID patients to Denver and Montrose in exchange for other types of patients.

“Last week we transferred two intubated patients to Montrose…they have the ability to scale up another 20 ICU beds. I think it’s easy enough for places like St. Mary’s Hospital (in Montrose) to move non-COVID patients to us,” he said by way of example.

Despite some rumors in the community, Santilli confirmed that the hospital actually has eight ventilators. “We had six ventilators, and we ordered four more. Two arrived, so we have eight ventilators at this point, and we don’t expect to get the other two anytime soon,” he said.

There is also a sterilizing ultraviolet light, called a UV iBot, on order with delivery expected on Friday. The device is able to disinfect a room or transport vehicle within 15 minutes of being turned on. Santilli said the board had looked at the device many times in the past, but for economic reasons (it costs about $50,000) had put it off until recently. “So that particular unit is something everyone is cheering about,” he said.

The hospital units conduct “situation briefings” every morning, and that information is on the Internet for public and employee access and put out separately to staff each day.

Commissioner Jonathan Houck asked how the hospital’s overall patient and caregiving balance is looking, given the cancelled elective surgeries and many other non-urgent procedures and hospital visits.

“The balance is not a balance,” replied Santilli. He said while the emergency room has been getting visitors, “The hospital is pretty empty outside of that. We are not seeing a taxing of services. Outpatient service is not happening.”

Similarly, Vanderveer said that one issue for the hospital from an expenditure and financial viability aspect is that “the hospital has all these other systems in place and is not using them,” since non-essential visits are postponed at the present.

“We are tracking our daily expenditures. So far we have spent about $200,000 in terms of labor and equipment, outside of people’s normal jobs,” he said of COVID preparation.

Commissioner John Messner thanked the hospital board for all the hospital has done in recent weeks to protect and serve the community.

“There’s something about this place, when people come together they can do amazing things,” answered Santilli.

As of Wednesday morning there were eight patients at the hospital, seven with respiratory symptoms.

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