Highlands Ranch hospital confronts staff outbreak, rise in area's COVID cases

The hospital is prepared to use surge plans if increase continues

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Throughout November, UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital had to work to overcome a staff outbreak and a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in the community as it prepared to deploy surge plans.

The hospital was designated as having an official outbreak of the virus on Nov. 5, and as of Nov. 25, 14 staff cases were listed.

Paula Freund, a spokesperson for the hospital, said in an email that the exposure had been quickly contained and that there hadn’t been new positive cases in at least three weeks.

To deal with such outbreaks, the hospital staff conducts contact-tracing efforts and determines who should quarantine and be tested.

“There are specific measures in place for different scenarios,” Freund said. “For example, if someone believes they may have been exposed within their own household vs. at work and if someone has symptoms vs. no symptoms.”

All who test positive are required to remain out of work for at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms or a positive test, she said.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations related to the virus are increasing in Douglas County.

“As hospitalization numbers continue to grow, and as we expand the number of beds available for patients, the pressure on our employees and staffing increases,” she said.

While the hospital still had the necessary staff to care for patients as of Nov. 23, they also had plans to “redeploy nursing staff” from their other clinics if needed. Some staff members, including nurses and respiratory therapists, have also picked up additional shifts to help out.

On Nov. 25, Tri-County Health Department data showed there were 418 people hospitalized because of COVID-19 in the county, with 30% of those patients between the ages of 45 and 64. Hospitalizations have been on the rise since early September, according to the data.

As of Nov. 23, the UCHealth hospital system had reached an all-time high with about 370 COVID-19 patients, Freund said.

“We were caring for about 115 patients a month ago,” she said.

While the hospital is still admitting patients to the emergency department, some non-emergency surgeries and procedures have been postponed over the past few weeks to keep beds available for more urgent patients, she said.

Over the past few months, the hospital has prepared plans to open additional rooms and ICU beds if needed.

“Those plans are ready and we will likely begin to open our surge units if the numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients continue to grow,” she said.

Freund said the best way for the public to help their nurses and physicians is to “heed the warnings from public health officials.”

“Wear a mask, wash hands, practice distancing,” she said. “And stay home if you feel sick.”

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