Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Harold Burch lives in a home with a spectacular view in Paonia, a rural part of Colorado’s Western Slope. But that’s been little consolation to Burch, 60, as he’s battled a cascade of health problems during the pandemic.
“It’s been a real rodeo,” Burch says. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs and lately it’s been mostly just downers.”
Burch has battled chronic osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and had two major intestinal surgeries. One specialist he was seeing left her practice last year. Another wouldn’t accept his insurance. Then, Nov. 1, he started experiencing major stomach pain.
“When we talk terrible problems, I can’t leave the house,” he says. He says he hasn’t eaten anything substantial in three weeks.
Burch had to wait that long to be seen by a primary care doctor. He says the doctor told him: “‘If things were different, I would tell you to go to the hospital and be diagnosed, have some tests run and see what’s going on with you.’ But he says, ‘as of today, Delta County hospital is clear full. There are no beds available.'”
The COVID variant delta has overwhelmed the Colorado county of the same name. Hospitals on the Western Slope have been slammed for weeks, and the statewide picture is similarly grim. As of Monday, 1,294 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the state’s coronavirus website. Half of the state’s hospitals said they anticipated a staffing shortage in mid-December; more than a third of them anticipated ICU bed shortages at the same time.
And behind those numbers, patients — and health care workers — are feeling the impact.
Burch’s doctor told him he might have to wait hours in the ER, perhaps with people who have flu or COVID-19 symptoms. So Burch stayed home.