By Kati Weis

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – With many hospitals in Colorado near or at capacity, healthcare workers are in need of more help. One UCHealth hospital in north Colorado is grateful this Thanksgiving to get a lending hand from healthcare professionals in the military.

 

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“It’s a scenario that I never thought I would be in as a hospital administrator, that I would be seeking help from the Department of Defense, and be so appreciative that they are here to help us,” said Chief Operating Officer Ryan Rohman of UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital.

Rohman says a team of 20 Department of Defense healthcare servicemen and women have been working at his hospital since Monday. He says it’s a welcome relief.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Michael Duran, a registered nurse assigned to medical response team Colorado, puts on a respirator at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, Nov. 22, 2021. (credit: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Hughes)

“We are still at capacity, or over capacity, in our hospitals, we are still not providing levels of care for patient populations in our hospitals that we would like to that are in need,” Rohman said. “There’s a whole other population of the community that are still in pain, still having other diagnoses and in need of care, and we are needing to prioritize the care of COVID patients right now, and push that off.”

He says about 95% of COVID-19 patients in critical care at Poudre Valley Hospital are not vaccinated — a statistic he says is concerning.

“A year ago, we were very focused on vaccine rollout, and we saw that as a great light at the end of the tunnel, very hopeful that this pandemic would be behind us, and that isn’t the case, we are caring for near all-time-high numbers in our hospital through UCHealth and across the state of Colorado,” Rohman said. “It has been hard for our staff, to be dealing with this pandemic now for 20 months, I would say that light at the end of the tunnel is a little dimmer than what it was in the past.”

The Department of Defense teams are coordinated through FEMA, and are being deployed to Colorado thanks to a request from Gov. Jared Polis. Teams are going to hospitals in other states across the country, too.

At UCHealth Poudre Valley, the team plans to stay as long as they are needed.

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“We will work as many hours as required,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Anthony Albina, a critical care nurse.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Anthony Albina, right, a registered nurse assigned to medical response team Colorado, looks at a patient’s chart with Alissa Odonkor, left, a civilian registered nurse at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital at the hospital, in Fort Collins. The Department of Defense medical response team deployed to Colorado at the request of FEMA to support the hospital’s efforts against the coronavirus. (credit: U.S. Army, photo by Spc. Richard Barnes)

Albina says it was easy to integrate with the staff at Poudre Valley. The team arrived Monday morning, and by Wednesday, they were assigned patients.

“There were lots of smiles when we first came in, lots of ‘thank you for being here,’ and right away we said right back, ‘thank you for having us, it’s an honor to be here,’” he recalled of his first day.

Nursing staff at Poudre Valley are grateful for their assistance.

Megan Tschacher, a charge nurse in the intensive care unit at Poudre Valley, says nurses are stretched thin right now, because of the sheer amount of work that goes into caring for COVID-19 patients in the ICU. She says the military team has really helped remove the burden.

“They can take some of that weight off of our shoulders, and we can kind of breathe a little,” she said.

For Albina, it’s a burden he’s happy to take care of.

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“The comfort is knowing that we are here in support of something that is bigger than ourselves, support of something that is a vital need to America,” Albina said.

Kati Weis