Health Officials Caution Against Virus Complacency

Prowers County Courthouse



The Prowers County Commissioners conducted their regular April 28th meeting via conference call to determine the safest course of action in light of Governor Polis’, Safer-at-Home regulations which went into effect on April 27th. The new regulations suggest an easing of some COVID-19 restrictions which will help open general, non-essential businesses to the public through the month of May. Those taking part in the call included Lanie Meyers-Mireles from the Department of Human Services, Meagan Hillman, Pubic Health Director-Prowers County Public Health and Environment, Prowers County Sheriff Sam Zordel, County Attorney Darla Scranton Specht and Karen Bryant, Prowers Medical Center Chief Executive Officer.

While acknowledging that rural counties in southeast Colorado have fared much better that metro areas dealing with the numbers of COVID-19, Prowers County officials expressed concerns that residents need to maintain safeguards to avoid contagion from the virus. Continued social distancing and wearing facemask protection when out in public were the two main elements that were highlighted.

The commissioners are considering language in a letter to be sent to Governor Polis which differentiates low-populated, rural based communities from crowded Front Range cities. They are seeking to establish guidelines which reflect safety standards more in line with the local environment that a one size fits all approach for the entire state.

CEO Bryant offered some sobering facts regarding the hospital’s preparation for a local impact COVID-19 could bring to this region. “We’re expanding our bed capacity to deal with a surge in patients. We’re being told we are two to three weeks from a time where we could potentially see a surge.” She said the Safer at Home transition is very concerning. Bryant said in her travels around the city, “I am not seeing people being cautious. I am not seeing many people wearing masks and I noticed multiple people in our park, congregating together.” She said she noticed people in authority positions that are recognized in public, again, not wearing masks while conversing with others which has her concerned.

The CEO told the commissioners that the hospital is holding firm on its safety protocols due to the modifications done to the facilities, “We just can’t flip a switch and say we’re going back to the way we were. We’re going to pick up the pace with a conference call with the governor’s legal counsel this week to discuss the enforcement of the safe at home procedures for elective surgeries.” She hoped that the hospital’s three surgeons would be able to participate in that conference call. Bryant recommended future discussions with various county officials to discuss our best plans as she said she didn’t feel, “we’re anywhere near being out of the woods,” and the hospital will not make any changes for the next two weeks. She recommended some strong messaging is needed for the local residents to continue to adhere to basic safety protocols when out in the public.

When asked about current capabilities to deal with a surge by Commissioner Grasmick, Bryant said the hospital has converted sections of the facilities to deal with virus patients. “We converted our pre-op and post-op areas in the operating rooms to be a seven bed unit. We have nine ventilators available. We converted our cardio-pulmonary area to a six bed unit if needed. We have facilities to separate COVID patients from our non-virus patients and those who show virus symptoms will be taken to an isolation room. The rehab gym has also been converted into a fifteen bed unit for use pending the level of any surge to keep patients isolated from virus patients.”

Lamar Community College is the hospital’s primary alternate care site and has offered the Prowers House dormitory as a respite area for staff who can’t go home due to circumstances from a surge. The Lamar Community Building was also considered by the state as an alternate site, but there are no plans to make use of it at this time. Bryant said the Specialty Clinic has been closed as most providers are using tele-health communications for their clientele while the clinic’s oncologist is seeing patients once a month. The hospital’s rehab crew is now housed in the Specialty Clinic for the time being.

Bryant said the current staffing model to deal with the virus calls for 72 nurses, “But we don’t have that. The number of patients we have to treat will deal with our staffing situation. We put out a request for any individuals in the community who still may have licensure or have retired and can get licensed with a waiver, we’ve been keeping track of them, particularly in respiratory therapy, but we don’t have 72.”

She said regional and state offices have been made aware of the situation to help assist should the hospital have to deal with a surge.

“Our biggest concern is what may happen with the relaxation of the ‘Stay at Home’ regulations and when people start to travel, coming into our community to visit restaurants and shop, especially if they aren’t wearing masks. There’s the potential for spreading the virus around our community very quickly,” she said, adding the lack of masks and ignoring social distancing procedures is very disturbing. “It’s hard to go backwards after some of the restrictions have been decreased. I think it would be hard for people to comply,” she explained.

Bryant said the next two weeks will be crucial to see which way the virus will impact our lives which is one of the main reasons the hospital is still maintaining its height of concern should this spread into a surge.

Bryant spent part of her conference call briefing the commissioners on other aspects of hospital development.

The replacement roof at Prowers Medical Center is about half-way complete, following the hail storm that hit the region two years ago. Bryant said the construction crew is working for a May 25th deadline but may not be right on target with that estimation. “We’re progressing with the completion of our on-site laundry facility,” she said, adding that some of the heavier construction work has been done on weekends to lessen the impact on daily life at the hospital. Electrical and plumbing work is progressing along with the equipment needed for medical specifications for the laundry.

“Our new security team has been on site since March 25th with two people working seven days a week between 5pm and 5am. We intend to have an evaluation after the first quarter to discuss any needed changes in the operation,” she told the commissioners. Bryant said the hospital board decided to cancel the annual health fair held each May in light of the virus and decided separate the MRI project from the Master Site Plan.

She noted Prowers Medical Center was recognized as a top 100 hospital in the country for Critical Access designation and was one of four in the state to receive that notification for 2020. She said, “That and our Four Star rating are pretty significant milestones for our team.”

By Russ Baldwin


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