Front Range hospitals, health systems collaborate on COVID-19 care

Between March and May, a group of Colorado health systems with hospitals spread mostly across the Front Range collaborated to care for 96% of Colorado’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients. 

That coalition, which presented data Tuesday on its efforts to treat cases and curb the virus’ spread during that three-month period, includes Banner Health, operator of McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Banner Fort Collins Medical Center and North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley; Boulder Community Health; Centura Health, operator of Longmont United Hospital and Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville; Denver Health; HCA Healthcare/HealthOne; SCL Health, headquartered in Broomfield; and UCHealth, operator of  UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont, UCHealth Broomfield Hospital, Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, UCHealth Medical Group in Loveland, UCHealth Greeley Hospital and Greeley Medical Center.

“In early March, we realized that this is bigger than one physician, one hospital or one health system,” SCL Health chief clinical officer Dr. J.P. Valin said during a virtual press conference. “…Since that time, we’ve been meeting regularly — daily for the first seven weeks and now three to four times a week. This close collaboration has allowed us to see broadly across the state to identify trends and act quickly in a unified way.”

Together, the seven members of the collaborative cared for 4,903 confirmed positive COVID-19 hospital admissions. 

Of those patients, more than 65.5% were released from the hospitals to their homes. Another 18.4% were discharged to another facility such as a rehabilitation center or hospice. The mortality rate for the seven-system collaborative was 14.3%.

Patients over 60 years of age were far more likely to be hospitalized — and far more likely to die once hospitalized — than younger cohorts, according to the coalition’s data. In April, when hospitalizations hit their peak, 1,291 over-60 patients were hospitalized. The next closest cohort was people between 30 and 49 years old, which saw 580 hospitalizations. Of the 60 or older patients, 23% died in the hospital.

UCHealth hospitals had 30% of admissions across the seven-system group, HealthOne 25%, SCL Health 14%,Centura 15%, Denver Health 10%, Banner 5% and BCH 1%.

Sharing data within the coalition helped doctors and nurses adapt as the outbreak progressed and develop best practices for care, hospital leaders said. 

“As we have progressed collaboratively over the past three months, we’ve learned so much about how to appropriately care for patients,” Centura chief clinical officer Shauna Gulley said. “One of the most important things we learned early on is that permissive hypoxemia — allowing oxygen levels to float a little lower than normal — made a big difference. It allowed us to avoid mechanical ventilation and overall improved outcomes.”

Hospital leaders praised not only the collaboration between Colorado’s health systems, but also the open lines of communication between the systems and the state government officials in charge of the virus response effort. 

Scott Bookman, who is managing the Colorado Department of Public Health’s coronavirus response, said he has worked in Colorado’s public health space for two decades and has “never seen health systems come together like this to serve the state.”

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