Colorado’s Combined Hospital Transfer Center (CHTC) recently moved to its lowest tier of activation—tier 1—after moving down to tier 2 the week prior. This is in response to the significant fall in COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the state in the past month.
“The transfer center folks’ hair was on fire for a while. The reliance on them to be part of the solution was huge,” said Julie Lonborg, senior vice president of communications and media relations at the Colorado Hospital Association. “This is a really good sign for Colorado. Case counts are down, hospitalizations are down, and mortality is down.”
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CHTC was created in Nov. 2020 in response to the large wave of COVID hospitalizations seen during that time, which strained many hospitals in Colorado. The transfer center works as a transfer hub between all Colorado hospitals and health systems to better allocate patients to hospitals with more capacity to best care for those patients.
In the height of the pandemic, CHTC worked to create a network to easily communicate the transfer of patients to less stressed hospitals. The transfer center was also used during the urban wildfires in the state earlier this year.
“The transfer center was at the center of our solution to being able to use every single resource throughout the state of Colorado [to fight this pandemic],” said Lonborg.
Now, with decreased prevalence of the omicron variant, hospitalizations for COVID cases in the state have fallen by 43% in the last 14 days, according to The New York Times.
At its lowest activation level, CHTC starts operating under the “buddy system,” where one small/rural hospital partners with a larger/urban hospital to facilitate direct patient transfers, if necessary. These transfers will continue to happen in the event that a rural hospital doesn’t have the resources to treat a more critical or complicated case.
This is as opposed to a central meeting of all hospitals to find any open space in tier 3. The center will not close, but become deactivated over time as COVID becomes endemic, said Lonborg.
However, ICU and hospital utilization is still higher than normal due to high numbers of Coloradans who have deferred care throughout the pandemic now seeking non-COVID care, said Lonborg.
“We have had nearly two years of people who have put off health care. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care,” said Lonborg. “They have not gotten their preventative care. So we are seeing lots of people who are much sicker than they should be.”
Lonborg said this is a sign that the pandemic as we know it is, “in the rearview mirror.” She said COVID could become more like influenza in the coming years, and that this is a great step for Colorado.