Several of those who lead emergency preparedness in the Colorado Springs area, home to Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy, point to their military backgrounds as a key reason they recently set-up MASH-like tents adjacent to hospitals in the area.

“Many of us have served in the military, and we got together and figured out what we think is the best way to separate out and screen people for COVID-19,” said David Tharp, senior director of emergency services at UCHealth in Colorado Springs.

The idea was to get ahead of the novel coronavirus and use the tents to divert those who may have the virus to a location apart from the rest of the patient population. It’s also a way to deal with the possibility of overflow patients if the virus continues to spread.

At Memorial Central, a UCHealth hospital in the Springs, patients are stopped and screened right inside the emergency entrance.  Those who have respiratory issues — and appear very sick — are taken back to an isolation room in the hospital. Otherwise those coughing or having trouble breathing are diverted to the large tent outside with four exam rooms where they’re further screened. It’s up to the nurse to decide whether to test the patient. Since opening the tent to patients Tuesday, providers have been seeing about 50 people a day.

Two other UC Health facilities in the area, Memorial North and the  freestanding Emergency Department in nearby Fountain, have set up tents and will open those to patients when they begin seeing increased visits.  Other hospitals in the state have also erected tents or have retrofitted existing hospital space to separate potential COVID-19 patients from other patients.

Currently, many emergency rooms report seeing even fewer patients than is normal for this time of year, likely because many people decide that going to the hospital is risky. But the hospitals expect to see more patients in the next week or two.

— Andrea Dukakis (CPR Radio Staff)