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Editorial: Patient transfer deal helps UNMH, Lovelace, patients

Relief is on the way for the ever-crowded emergency room at the University of New Mexico Hospital.

It’s routine for patients to sit for hours in jammed emergency room waiting areas and then in temporary beds adjacent to the ER while waiting to be admitted. A patient transfer agreement with Lovelace Health System should provide some relief.

Under terms of an agreement announced last week, Lovelace will accept medically appropriate patients from UNMH if any of Lovelace’s three acute care hospitals in Albuquerque have beds available.

Besides easing the emergency room crunch, it could mean an improved hospital experience for patients who agree to be transferred. So instead of waiting, waiting, waiting, surrounded by other sick and injured people, these patients can be admitted. That, in turn, should reduce wait times for other patients.

UNMH is the only Level 1 trauma center in the state and operates at more than 90 percent capacity all of the time. Transferring patients to Lovelace facilities means more patients who need the specialized care offered only at UNMH can be accommodated more quickly. That’s important because the uptick in Medicaid recipients means more people are accessing emergency rooms, according to some officials.

“Partnering with Lovelace makes better use of the capabilities of both UNM and Lovelace hospitals,” said Dr. Irene Agostini, UNMH’s chief medical officer.

Lovelace vocally opposed an early version of UNMH’s proposal to build a new $600 million hospital – to take pressure off its ER, prepare for growth in the state’s senior population and allow it to accept more patients from other hospitals. As the plan has evolved, Lovelace has not signaled a change in that position.

Yet, this agreement represents a pragmatic, patient-centric detente that benefits Lovelace, UNMH and, most especially, patients who simply need care that begins in the ER.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.