MHSC opens 2nd COVID unit as county cases surge

“We are at crisis level,” Kim White, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County’s emergency services director said about the number of COVID-19 patients seeking treatment at the hospital.

The hospital has opened a second COVID-19 unit in response to the increased number of patients seeking treatment. The second ward is part of the hospital’s surge capacity plan, which was originally formed in March 2020 and represents a higher tier in the hospital’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The new COVID-19 unit is located where the hospital’s same-day surgery services were originally offered. The hospital recently suspended elective surgeries with no indication of when they would be offered again.

According to the Wyoming News Exchange, the number of COVID-19 cases in Wyoming declined over Labor Day weekend by 621, through more than 1,000 cases were identified throughout the state.

“The Wyoming Department of Health’s regular coronavirus update said the state received reports of 1,011 new laboratory-confirmed cases of the illness over the weekend, along with 278 reports of new probable cases,” according to the news exchange. “However, the state also received new reports between Friday and Tuesday of 1,889 recoveries among patients with confirmed or probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 3,484 active cases.”

As of Tuesday, the hospital reports having 16 COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Of those, 87% were not vaccinated. The number peaked Sunday with 19 COVID-19 inpatients, a number representing 73% of the total patients in the hospital. In total, Sweetwater County had 278 confirmed cases reported to the WDH and had a total of 537 active cases as of Tuesday.

According to Dr. Melinda Poyer, the hospital’s chief medical officer, the new COVID-19 variants are resulting in people getting much sicker in a shorter amount of time.

“Recently, with the delta variant surge, our hospitalized patients with COVID-19 are requiring longer stays and more intensive care than we see with many other illnesses,” she said.

The age range of patients being seen in the emergency room varies between infants and elderly residents.

“With this variant, we are treating many patients in their 30s to 50s,” White said. “We have diagnosed infants with COVID-19. We had one we thought for sure would come back as an RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) diagnosis, since we are seeing RSV much earlier this year.”

“Everyone is at risk,” said Dr. Phil Najm, MHSC Emergency Medical Director with University of Utah Health. “We are sending patients home on oxygen each day who in different times would be able to be admitted. Some of them can recuperate at home, but some of them worsen and return in just a few days needing life support; some die despite receiving advanced life support.

“People should understand that the hospitals where we would typically transfer the most critical patients are full,” Najm said. “The surge likely will get worse over the next two to four weeks. It would not be like this if more people were vaccinated.”

The increased patient load has taken its toll on the hospital’s staff as well.

“Staffing is one of the hospital’s biggest issues right now,” MHSC’s Chief Nursing Officer Ann Clevenger said. “This last week was tough.”

White said extra members of the hospital’s healthcare team have been sent to the ER to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients they’re receiving.

During the holiday weekend, nurses and other healthcare workers helped move beds and make room for additional COVID-19 patients in the same-day surgery area. Employees from other departments and workers who had scheduled time off came in to help as well.

“Everyone can see the toll the pandemic and the workload is taking on each of our staff members,” White said. “We see the weary look in their eyes, and the slowing of their steps. We understand the feelings of defeat, and the feeling that few outside of our walls are paying attention to what is going on.”


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