Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Faced with an explosion of seriously ill coronavirus patients in New Mexico hospitals, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has taken the first step toward the grim possibility of rationing care.
In an executive order issued Friday, the governor said she wants her medical advisory team to recommend “if and when” the state should activate “crisis care” standards.
Such standards would help overwhelmed hospitals decide what type of patients should be given priority to receive scarce medical resources – for instance, those patients who are more likely to survive.
“Projections indicate statewide “crisis care” standards may need to be implemented in the coming weeks,” said Jodi McGinnis Porter, spokeswoman for the state Human Services Department. “Our entire state has been at a contingency care level for a few weeks.”
State public health officials, who have reported a doubling of COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past month, are expected to provide an update early this week. Health officials said Sunday that 919 people were hospitalized in the state for COVID-19, a slight drop from the 925 hospitalizations reported Saturday.
New Mexico’s number of hospital beds per capita is among the lowest in the country.
“Presbyterian continues to exhaust every possible avenue, through expanding clinical spaces and increasing staffing, to care for as many patients as possible during the pandemic,” Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer of Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said in a statement.
He said the governor’s order “provides another level for hospitals to meet the demand during this surge.”
Mitchell added: “This is an incredibly concerning time for our entire community, and especially for our clinicians and staff. We will care for our patients as safely and effectively as possible.”
During an initial surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations last spring, doctors and health care leaders began developing a “crisis care standards” plan, which they hoped would never be carried out. Such a plan, for instance, would include standards for deciding which patients get ventilators if there aren’t enough to go around.
“We don’t want individual doctors and nurses being in a situation where they’re having to make tough ethical decisions without a sturdy and detailed framework,” Human Services Secretary David Scrase told the Journal in April.
“The goal, in any case,” he said, “is to relieve the burden on front-line health-care providers – to ensure they aren’t asked to determine whose life is most valuable if, say, only one ventilator is available for multiple patients.”
New Mexico’s hospitals are currently working under “contingency care,” which means patient demand exceeds standard resource availability but can still be met through adaptation and conservation efforts.
Journal staff writer Dan McKay contributed to this report.