FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) — For the first time since the delta variant has caused a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in northern Colorado, medical providers in the packed halls of the ICU are sharing their stories with CBS4.
Dr. Diana Breyer, chief pulmonologist and ICU doctor for UCHealth in northern Colorado, said her fellow medical providers are growingly concerned with the trajectory of the pandemic to end 2021.
“I am more worried now than I have been in the pandemic,” Breyer said. “This surge has been particularly hard.”
ICUs throughout Weld County and Larimer County have been operating at, or beyond, capacity for months. Rooms have been doubled with beds, filled with patients battling COVID-19.
At the same time, staffing in UCHealth’s ICUs is stretched as many nurses have chosen to either retire or change professions as a result of the pandemic.
“The people who are left are tired,” Breyer said. “The fear is, if this continues and we become even more shorthanded, we could be giving care that is not adequate.”
Breyer said it’s emotionally and physically taxing to be an ICU medical worker during this phase of the pandemic.
“I wish people could see what I see in the ICUs,” Breyer said. “I’m heartbroken. Because, when I see patients, it is when they are really sick from COVID and often going on ventilators. When people get that sick with COVID there is a pretty high mortality rate.”
Breyer said roughly 25-30% of COVID patients who end up on a ventilator never wake up. And, according to Breyer, the state’s projections for the pandemic suggest that hospitalizations will increase to end the year.
Currently, 26% of UCHealth’s COVID-19 patients in the state are hospitalized in northern Colorado. A significant majority of those hospitalized are locals.
“We could reach a point where we don’t have enough beds,” Breyer said.
As first reported by CBS4’s Dillon Thomas, the Department of Defense and FEMA are teaming up to deploy medical workers to Fort Collins to help address the hospital capacity and staffing issues.
Breyer said many on staff feel, when they walk out of the hospital after a shift, they’re stepping into a world that has left them behind, also leaving them with a mess to pick up.
Making things worse, Breyer says most of the stresses of the job could’ve been avoided if people were getting vaccinated.
According to CDPHE those who are vaccinated are nearly four times less likely to contract COVID-19, nearly 10 times less likely to be hospitalized and nearly 14 times less likely to die from COVID.
“There are people dying currently who would not be dying if they had been vaccinated,” Breyer said. “We had so much hope a year ago when the vaccines came out that we were hoping we would never be here again.”