UCHealth Highlands Ranch turns one

COVID-19 has been new hospital’s biggest challenge

Elliott Wenzler
ewenzler@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/30/20

When Diane Cookson set off to open up a hospital in Highlands Ranch, she had no idea of the year she had in store. Since its kick off in June 2019, the UCHealth Highlands Ranch campus has seen nearly …

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UCHealth Highlands Ranch turns one

COVID-19 has been new hospital’s biggest challenge

Posted

When Diane Cookson set off to open up a hospital in Highlands Ranch, she had no idea of the year she had in store. Since its kick off in June 2019, the UCHealth Highlands Ranch campus has seen nearly 27,000 patients, 600 births and 55 COVID-19 patients.

“Obviously the biggest challenge we faced is the pandemic,” said Cookson, president of the hospital. “I’ve been in health care for 30 years and this is a first for me.”

One thing that Cookson believes helped the hospital maintain its levels of care is that they’re part of the larger UCHealth system, she said.

“We didn’t have any issues with PPE (personal protection equipment), we didn’t have any problems getting ventilators,” she said. “We were very well-prepared, as a system, to take care of this and I think as a result, our community benefited from that.”

Like other state hospitals, UCHealth Highlands Ranch only continued non-covid procedures that were medically necessary. They saw fewer patients in their operating rooms and in the emergency room.

“It was just a matter of shutting down operations to a certain degree and just caring for urgent care,” she said.

The hospital system has not yet had to lay off any staff and employee salaries were guaranteed through April and May regardless of if an employee was working, she said. 

COVID-19 challenges

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors and hospital administrators had to decide the best course of action for their serious, non-covid patients. One area that required specific attention was the cancer center.

“If you look at our number of covid patients compared to other hospitals, our numbers have generally been lower,” said Dr. Radhika Acharya, medical director of the cancer center. “I think it was because we were early adopters so we could keep our patients safe.”

Hospital staff began watching the virus in December and in January increased their training related to virus prevention. In different stages, they halted all procedures except medically necessary ones, increased screenings for the virus and stopped allowing visitors.

One of Acharya’s patients, Melissa Babich, 44, was diagnosed with colon cancer in December. While her friends and family were able to sit with her during chemotherapy treatments in the beginning, she soon had to face them alone, she said. 

“The nurses really stepped up and would come and sit with you,” Babich said. 

With her immune system compromised because of the chemo, Babich was considered a vulnerable population for the virus. Mostly, she was concerned about contracting the virus and giving it to others, Acharya said.

“We had multiple conversations at every visit on how to make it work,” Acharya said.

June 23, Babich rang a bell at the hospital signifying that she had completed her final round of chemo. While she will still be vulnerable for another three months and will then have follow-up visits related to her cancer for about five years, she has a positive outlook.

“They had a really cohesive team that was all supporting me,” she said. “It’s made such a difference.”

In its first year, the cancer center saw 900 unique patients, according to a spokesperson.

In the next year, the community hospital hopes to increase their neuroscience services around seizures and strokes, Cookson said. 

They plan to bring on additional, specialized doctors and new equipment to expand these programs.

“We will continue to grow our program and expand our reach to be able to provide care closer to home,” Cookson said. “I’m excited to bring more to the hospital.”

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