This is a very unfamiliar and scary time for all of us. During this uncertainty there is one question I keep hearing, “Are our hospitals prepared?” Our hospitals have been preparing for events like this and while COVID-19 is new, preparing for responses to disasters is not new to hospitals. Emergency preparedness training is a year-round activity that is done within each facility, system and region. Hospitals treat patients with a variety of infectious diseases daily. These patients are isolated and treated in appropriate spaces by trained staff using specialized equipment.
When there is a threat of a disease that could cause a surge of patients, each individual hospital steps up its preparedness and coordination activities. Hospitals share information and best practices, but also deploy the specific strategies that will work best in their facilities and in response to the changing situation.
A surge will happen, but the impact depends on how collectively successful we all are at minimizing community spread. Basic precautions are essential. Hand washing, disinfecting surfaces and physical distancing are truly critical. Those who think that all these safety measures are overblown need to realize this coronavirus is truly “novel” – meaning there is no natural immunity in the population and no natural barrier to rampant spread. We must create physical barriers and separation.
The good news is that our state government has been making all the right choices and is aggressively attempting to “flatten the curve” of a surge of patients hitting the health-care system all at once. Remember, the New Mexico Department of Health Coronavirus health hotline is 855-600-3453.
Hospitals are served by incredibly competent, caring and capable caregivers and leaders. We like to say that hospitals are “always there, ready to care.” But therein is our challenge. In times of crisis, the community looks to their hospitals as the source for everything. This is a tall order. That’s why patients without symptoms are being asked to not go to an emergency room just for a check-up. The “worried well” need to heed the public health advisories that have been widely published by Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health. Stay home and contact your primary care provider for non-emergencies and for illnesses that do not have the specific symptoms of COVID-19. From what we know, COVID-19 presents with a fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath. Those are different than the congestion, colds and allergies so many of us get in the spring.
If the inevitable surge cannot be mitigated, it will be overwhelming to our already stressed health-care system. Hospitals are working actively with federal and state public health officials to secure all needed resources: supplies, staff and space, i.e., hospital beds. In normal times, hospitals are lean organizations. Supplies arrive through “just in time” factory direct sources. Health-care professional shortages are well known. Hospitals have little excess capacity with many running at 90% occupancy. Any surge will severely tax the system.
However, federal, state and local government, along with hospitals have emergency plans in place to redistribute resources and coordinate responses. Part of that focus is to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep health-care workers on the job and protected. The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department is working to support health-care workers with access to child care. …
As the governor said in last week’s address, “We are all in this together.”
New Mexico’s 46 hospitals appreciate all that the public is doing each day, sacrifices they are making for the well-being of their families and communities. We accept this challenge before us and are at the ready to serve.