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A Pandemic Overview from Southwest Health System in Cortez

Mark Duggan/KSUT


COVID-19 cases continue to rise in some parts of the country. But in Colorado, new cases and hospitalizations are trending downward. We wanted to know how one area health care organization is handling the pandemic, from preparing for a possible spike in cases to balancing public health with a desire by some to return to normal. KSUT reporter Mark Duggan reached out to Tony Sudduth to find out more. He's the CEO of Southwest Health System and Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez.

Producer's note: Due to connection problems, parts of the interview with Tony Sudduth may be difficult to understand. We've included a transcript of the interview below:

MARK DUGGAN: Tony, can you kind of assess how Southwest Health System and the hospital are doing about three months into the Coronavirus crisis?

TONY SUDDUTH: You know, I think, probably as well as to be expected that we are actually doing very well. So we've not had a major influx into our system as a lot of places have. But we've been able to manage the strange effects of what's happening. We've had a pretty slow few months of our revenue being way down. But we were prepared for that. And with some of the stimulus funds that we received, it looks like we're going to be in pretty good shape. We've been able to stay on top of our supply needs and take care of what we've had to take care of, and I think we've been a very good educational source community during that time. So we feel like we've done pretty well.

DUGGAN: Have there been any points in the past three months where you were worried about capacity supplies, personnel.

SUDDUTH: You know, there's been a few times where we've had some supply concerns. Different areas, obviously, initially, there were masks, gowns, things like that, that have come up. At one point we were having some issues in getting anesthesia drugs that we were able to address very quickly. But so yeah, there's been those times. But as far as the capacity, obviously, we were really concerned at first. We had no idea what to expect and whether we would become overwhelmed but that really hasn't been an issue.

DUGGAN: Some states like Arizona and Florida are seeing a spike in new COVID cases. But Colorado isn't. How is the hospital in Cortez prepared for a possible future spike?

SUDDUTH: You know, I think we're probably in better shape than we were originally because, again, we've been very cautious about conserving supplies and making sure we had the proper PPE in place and we have a pretty substantial inventory right now. So that when you see that, again, we did a lot of preparation for a potential surge the first time so I think if it does actually happen again, you know, we'll be much better prepared than we were.

DUGGAN: Have you seen any particular demographic trends with the people coming into the hospital as confirmed COVID cases?

SUDDUTH: No, not really. It's been pretty diverse, the population that we've actually seen with this. Again the number is still very small for what we actually have hospitalized in our system. But it's been a diverse group that hasn't any particular age group. But what we've seen has been pretty widespread.

DUGGAN: A few weeks ago, when there were a lot of discussions about reopening some businesses, you urged caution. And you did so at a Montezuma County Board of Supervisors meeting, maintaining that public health should be taken into consideration along with reopening businesses and the economy. What's your assessment now that we're several weeks into a phased reopening?

SUDDUTH: Well, I think there's definitely a split out there as far as people who think that taking the extreme precautions are necessary. But you know, I think, for the most part, I've been actually very pleased with what I've seen. I think most of the businesses are taking it very seriously. I think they have the precautions in place and are trying to do what they can. I think the one thing that everybody agrees on, no one wants us to get back into a position to where we have to consider doing a shutdown again. And I think they understand what the ramifications of that would be and are taking precautions to make sure that doesn't happen.

DUGGAN: There's been some tension in Montezuma County and other places between balancing public health and restarting the economy as it's known. Were you caught by surprise by the amount of tension in Montezuma County about that?

SUDDUTH: You know, I think it was a little bit surprising and some of the reactions, because it was never, from my perspective, it was never an either/or. We always supported expanding the reopening as long as it was done safely and the precautions were put in place and that was really the only thing we were emphasizing We were never at a point where we did want businesses to not reopen. But I understand what the economic impact of that was. Yes, it was a little surprising at first, but again, I think we've gotten beyond that. Everybody understands that you can have both. As more and more businesses reopen and additional options are put in place. It seems to be going very well.

KSUT COVID-19 news reporting is made possible by support from individual donors and the Colorado Media Project.

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