COVID patients stretch hospitals beyond capacity - Albuquerque Journal

COVID patients stretch hospitals beyond capacity

Albuquerque Ambulance Education Commander Matthew Painter, center, helps EMTs Adriana Amara, left and Shandelle Le Beau with their personal protective equipment before the pair headed to their afternoon shift last week. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque-area hospitals are operating above capacity, but doctors say they have brought in additional staff to meet the demands of the latest coronavirus surge and the state says it is making plans to open the hospital on Gibson as a step-down facility.

New Mexico announced 1,259 new coronavirus cases Monday and 21 deaths.

Currently, 738 people are hospitalized with coronavirus throughout the state, and officials at local hospitals said COVID patients now account for about half of their patients.

In an effort to free up space at local hospitals, plans are being made to open the Gibson Medical Center as an alternate care facility for patients who still require some care and are not yet ready to be released, said Marisa Maez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health. She said details will be released later this week.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has skyrocketed in the past week. On Sunday, the state was reporting just over 500 hospitalized patients. But some of Monday’s sudden increase in hospitalizations is the result of the state changing its methodology for collecting the data to make it more reflective of the actual patient population, according to state officials.

As has been the case, the number of patients hospitalized includes patients from other states who are sent to New Mexico, but not New Mexican COVID patients who are sent to hospitals in other states. Several news providers have reported recently that patients from El Paso, which has been a hot spot for the virus, have been transported to New Mexico hospitals.

However, Maez said that bringing in some patients from nearby states doesn’t have much of an effect on the total number of patients hospitalized in the state because some New Mexico patients end up being treated in out-of-state hospitals.

“If anything it is the opposite. We send more patients out of state than the other way around,” she said.

Doctors at the University of New Mexico, Presbyterian and Lovelace health systems said during a teleconference Monday that they have brought in additional staff and created spaces to treat patients in their hospitals in order to expand their capacity. They have also postponed certain procedures to free up resources for COVID patients.

They said the hospitals are handling the surge.

“It doesn’t look like what you’ve seen in the media occurred in New York City, for example, and other places that have been overrun,” said Dr. Denise Gonzales, a critical care physician at Presbyterian. “It’s very calm. We’re working hard. We’re taking care of more patients at any given time than we typically would. But there’s no panic.”

During the teleconference, hospital officials stressed that people should continue to socially distance and follow state public health orders. They also asked that people forgo large Thanksgiving gatherings this year.

Dr. Rohini McKee, the UNM Hospital chief quality and safety officer, said people shouldn’t get overly excited about the recent news of a coronavirus vaccine. The drugmaker Moderna on Monday became the second company to announce encouraging, preliminary results from a large vaccine trial.

“That is not going to be helpful to us now. Right now, what we need to do is engage in those COVID safe practices. Get your flu shot, wear your mask in order to minimize the number of deaths that we see and minimize overwhelming our health systems,” McKee said. “I think previously when we asked the public to (stay at home) it was almost as if there was no end in sight. And now we see some light at the end of the tunnel. But the tunnel right now is pretty dark.”

In another move to address the surge, the state has placed an order for six “mobile mortuaries” that can each hold 40 decedents.

“The sad reality is, we are seeing more deaths related to COVID,” Maez said. “The increasing number of COVID-related deaths then compounds onto the deaths we see every day in New Mexico caused by a variety of other reasons. Both are putting a strain” on the Office of the Medical Investigator.

The 21 deaths reported Monday was above the state’s seven-day average of just more than 15 deaths per day.

Those who died ranged in age from a man in his 20s from Luna County to a Santa Fe county man in his 90s.

The number of New Mexico deaths related to COVID-19 is now 1,236.

Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this report.

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