Across the country, hospital emergency departments have seen fluctuations in numbers and kinds of patients as COVID-19 unfolds.

In Colorado emergency department volumes are down both locally and regionally.

Fluctuations have been occurring on a weekly and daily basis, but Patrick Stanifer, Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center emergency department manager, said there has been an overall decrease.

He said it’s presumed patients are not seeking emergency care because of several factors: fear of exposure to COVID-19, reduced traumatic injury related to decreased vehicle traffic and motor vehicle crashes and decreased outdoor recreational activities like skiing and mountain biking.

Historically, at HRRMC emergency room patient volumes are lower in April when ski season ends and boating and mountain biking season has not begun.

“Both our March and April volumes were down from last year, April more noticeably than March, Stanifer said.

However, the hospital’s emergency department is still seeing the typical type of patients and a wide range of issues normally seen in the department, he said.

Allison Gergley, HRRMC director of marketing and public relations, said several precautions are in place in the emergency department.

“We are continuing to offer vehicle triaging and tent testing for patients with respiratory symptoms. Patients are told to wait in their car, call a specific number, and a member of our clinical staff comes out to screen them and test if they fit criteria,” she said.

Medical screeners are stationed at the emergency department entrance, and a sign before patients walk in asks people to wait before entering in case there are already patients being helped in the registration area.

Medical screeners meet each employee outside at the sign to perform initial screening for their shift.

Each person (staff or patient) is required to wear a mask.

“Screeners and staff interacting with patients all wear medical-grade masks, while we ask patients to wear any type of face covering. If they do not have one with them upon arrival, we do have several homemade masks we are making available to patients, all laundered beforehand and fresh for use,” Gergley said.

For any patient who comes through the ER and needs to be admitted, and who also has respiratory symptoms, a team of physicians and nurses along with the hospital’s infection prevention team will make a call on how to proceed and coordinate that effort wearing proper personal protective equipment where necessary.

Gergley said HRRMC staff is fully trained for these types of situations.

“We are fully equipped to provide the proper care to anyone who walks into the ED or would be treated here. We’ve established physical distancing space and seating throughout our facilities, have increased the number of hand sanitizing stations throughout the hospital and have medical assessments and screenings in place before anyone would even step foot into the facility to ensure they and we are protected,” she said.

As of Friday the hospital had tested 36 employees for COVID-19; 35 tests had come back negative and one was pending.

“I believe that shows how seriously our staff take their jobs and that they take all the proper precautions to keep themselves and patients safe,” Gergley said.

HRRMC’s incident command team meets daily to assess the pandemic and how its facilities and extended community are affected, Gergley said.

“We are always trying to think ahead to what’s next, what our needs may be and how we can better serve the community given this strange and challenging time. We’re also so grateful to the community for their support and donations of homemade masks, supplies and signs and cards that offer everyone great encouragement,” she said.

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