Colorado hospitals can turn away patients as COVID-19 surges

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Colorado hospitals grappling with an influx of COVID-19 cases no longer have to accept new patients, following an executive order by Governor Jared Polis. 

The Democrat's order on Sunday came as hospital capacity across the state dropped to less than 10%. The edict applies to hospitals that have hit, or are nearing, their cap on the number of patients they are equipped to handle. It authorizes the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to “order hospitals and freestanding emergency departments to transfer or cease the admission of (and redirect) patients to respond to the current COVID-19 Disaster Emergency in Colorado.”

Polis said his actions will help “address the staffing shortages in hospitals,” which he termed “severe.” 

The governor's order gives local health care workers more latitude to decide who gets treated first in an emergency. The order also coincides with a state mandate requiring health care workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 92% of Colorado's hospital workers now immunized. 

Despite having terminated 119 workers for refusing to get vaccinated, UCHealth, one of the state's biggest health systems, said the mandate helped improve staffing among its workforce of 26,500. 

“With broad vaccination rates, fewer employees are testing positive for COVID-19 and needing to be out of work while they recover,” a UCHealth spokesperson told Colorado Public Radio. 


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Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection control and prevention for UCHealth, told the radio station that she found it “unfortunate that there were individuals that had to be let go.” But she added, “I also feel strongly they don't belong in health care.” 

Polis last week said Colorado on Monday would start transferring monoclonal antibody treatment out of medical centers to a fleet of mobile clinics. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado are at their highest since last year, before vaccines were readily available. Masks are optional, and restaurants are running at full capacity in most parts of the state, with Polis reluctant to revive statewide restrictions. The state's positivity rate is running above 8%.

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