The inside of Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree feels more like “normal” these days to the staff, nurses and doctors who work there.
“In June, we’ve returned to a more normal state,” said Dr. Adam Barkin, an emergency physician and Sky Ridge’s medical director.
“We’re still screening patients and using more (personal protective equipment) and masks than we used to, but if you walk into the emergency department, it’s almost like it was in the pre-COVID days,” he said. “It feels better for everyone because as much as anything you know what to expect. There’s less uncertainty and less unknown and less disease burdening the community, and that gives people reassurance also.”
Sky Ridge officials declined to say how many COVID-19 patients it is treating or its current bed capacity. Barkin said the hospital’s COVID-19 “war room” is ready, but not currently operational due to the low number of COVID-19 patients.
Patients could receive elective surgeries again in May. Sky Ridge put a hold on performing elective surgeries beginning mid-March.
The hospital has maintained its current system separating COVID-19 patients with the rest of the patients, and the workers within the walls of Sky Ridge feel generally more at ease, Barkin said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn a second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic could hit as soon as the end of summer and could coincide with flu season. Barkin said Sky Ridge has the capability to revert to its original COVID-19 protocol at a moment’s notice.
Sky Ridge’s emergency department has 27 beds and can quickly expand up to the mid-30s if needed, Barkin said. Six additional rooms in the hospital reserved to keep COVID-19 patients if needed.
“If we look to our neighbors in Arizona or Utah, we see some pretty profound surges in COVID patients in those states with similar populations and climate,” Barkin said. “The fact Coloradans have taken this seriously, staying at home and taking care of each other and themselves, has helped us and I hope we continue in that direction and be the shining light of the management of COVID in our country.”
To lessen the impact of the second wave, Barkin reminded people to avoid large gatherings and socially distance themselves, especially indoors, and to wear a mask in public.
“Masks have been shown to dramatically reduce the transmission of COVID,” Barkin said. “The data is fairly striking.”
When looking back at the first two months of the pandemic, Barkin said it was “a surreal experience,” preparing for the initial surge.
“At the same time, the sort of surreal part of the whole thing was everyone hunkered home who weren’t sick,” Barkin said. “The people of Colorado took quarantine seriously. They took the stay-at-home order seriously.”
However, the pandemic spurred fears of visiting hospitals, causing many people requiring more immediate medical attention to avoid the hospital entirely from late March through April.
Having that space “gave us a chance to take great care of the COVID patients, but one of the downsides was we had a lot of patients in our community who didn’t seek medical care when they probably should have … and there were repercussions for that,” Barkin said.
Barkin wanted to ensure the public that Sky Ridge and its emergency department are a “very safe place to be right now.”
“There’s no place that is 100% safe, but we have done a lot at Sky Ridge in keeping patients screened and keeping patients protected. The whole medical community in Colorado has done a really good job of doing that, and if you think you have an emergency — if you are injured, have a heart attack, have a stroke—you should not delay care and you should come in to be evaluated. We will do everything in our power to make sure you get the best care and you are safe, from a COVID perspective.”
The hospital has two 24-hour access points and a third opened during the day. Everyone who enters the hospital has their temperature taken.
“For the time being and foreseeable future, the face of medicine is going to look somewhat different,” Barkin said.
After visitors have their temperature taken, staff ask them questions to make sure they are in the correct location and are a visitor of a patient at the hospital. One visitor is allowed per patient. Anyone visiting the hospital who is not seeking treatment is asked to leave if they have a fever or are believed to be a risk of spreading the disease.
“All we’re trying to do is minimize risk for everyone,” Barkin said.
Another noticeable difference now from two months ago is the hospital’s ability to test patients, Barkin said. Most patients coming out of surgery are tested within five days of his or her operation, Barkin said. COVID-19 testing is available to anybody, and results can be available in as little as 24 hours.
“Having increased testing capacities has made our ability to test patients and give diagnoses a whole lot easier,” Barkin said.
At the start of the pandemic, the hospital could only test patients requiring hospitalization. Even then, patients would receive their results within 7 to 10 days, making treating presumed COVID-19 patients difficult.
“The vast majority of patients with COVID don’t feel well but don’t meet hospital requirements. We need to be able to test those people also,” Barkin said. “We don’t necessarily have the capacity to run rapid tests on everyone…but we do have the capacity to test everyone with a longer (24-hour) test.”
Doctors, nurses and staff are feeling more comfortable working amid the changes and treating COVID-19 patients, Barkin said.
“People were having a really hard time,” Barkin said of Sky Ridge employees. “People weren’t sleeping and worried about what’s going on. Morale is so much better at this point. People have a better sense of what to do, how to do it and to keep people safe.”
The outpouring of support from local restaurants and community members—whether it be a dozen full meals or a plate of cookies—has made a difference to staff.
“It was so uplifting for all the folks working in the hospital during a hard time, to be able to have a really good meal at the beginning of their shift or end of their shift,” Barkin said. “COVID has been, and it still is, the most challenging string of events that I’ve ever had to face in my professional life, and having support from our community has been unbelievable.”
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