Gov. Polis signs order to direct full-capacity hospitals to transfer patients to less stressed hospitals


Patrick Jones


Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order this week which gives Colorado hospitals — or freestanding emergency departments (EDs) — more opportunity to transfer and cease patient admissions if capacity is reached. 

The order authorizes the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) to have full-capacity hospitals and EDs direct patients to other hospitals with the resources to handle more admissions. 


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Scott Bookman, director of the Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response at CDPHE, says the order is designed to support the Combined Hospital Transfer Center (CHTC), to which the transfers go through during COVID-19 capacity concerns statewide. 

“This is about using every available bed in the state of Colorado to ensure that all Coloradans receive the best care possible during a time of true capacity challenge.”

The CHTC was created last year and allows hospitals and health systems to better allocate patients to hospitals with more capacity to handle and best care for patients. The Colorado Hospital Association (CHA) says:

“The CHTC will be activated should the number of patients needing transfer exceed the capacity of the hospitals, and it will be a key component of Colorado’s surge plan moving into the winter.”

The order removes barriers to transfers that occur at the health plan, hospital, and patient level. These barriers include some patients’ reluctance to move and hospital’s continuous stress in taking on new patients. Bookman says:

“All of our hospitals are stressed. Some are more stressed than others, and at a time like this, we need to have the ability to work with those hospitals — that maybe are less stressed — and move patients there because that is still better to where they currently are.”

In conjunction with this order, Bookman says CHTC will move to a level three activation tier. This means statewide hospital systems, hospitals, and transfer centers will meet multiple times a day to monitor capacity, utilization, and needs for transfers throughout the state. Bookman says CDPHE will take part in these meetings with the authority to “help exercise the movement of these patients if needed.”

The order is a direct result of a continued increase in COVID-19 cases in hospitals. As national cases and hospitalizations go down, Colorado’s continue to climb. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations hit their highest levels of the year this week with the state’s overall hospital capacity at 90%. Bookman says that leaves around 900 available hospital beds statewide.

Though only 20% of Coloradans have not yet received the vaccine, 80% of COVID-19 cases within hospitals are of the unvaccinated. Bookman called it, “the pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Polis says:

“We hit an amazing accomplishment in the fight against COVID-19 yesterday by reaching 80% of adults vaccinated across Colorado with at least one dose of the lifesaving and free COVID-19 vaccine. But this milestone is nowhere near signaling that COVID-19 is over. Instead, Colorado is in the middle of record COVID-19 case transmission levels and close to record hospitalization rates largely coming from the unvaccinated minority in our state, who make up the vast majority of hospitalizations in all age groups. Currently, 1 out of every 51 Coloradans is infected with the virus. It’s critical now that every Coloradan takes advantage of every tool available to slow and stop the spread of COVID, with the most effective tool being the vaccine.”