Home News COVID-19 Situation Hospitals see more patients as virus cases rise

Hospitals see more patients as virus cases rise

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Officials with Roswell’s hospitals say they have seen an increase in patients in recent weeks along with the rising COVID-19 numbers from the region and state.

Data from the New Mexico Department of Health’s COVID-19 website shows that as of Tuesday, 295 of the state’s adult intensive care unit beds at seven “hub” hospitals are occupied — five over the state’s baseline gating criteria of 290 ICU beds.

It’s not the first time the hub hospitals have surpassed more than 290 ICU beds filled. It happened as recently as Oct. 26 and also in June. However, the number of occupied ICU beds has been on an upward trend since Oct. 4, when 226 ICU beds were occupied.

ICU bed occupancy in all state hospitals has averaged 71% since the state began including that data in its daily COVID-19 updates on Oct. 21.

The seven hub hospitals have a baseline of 290 ICU beds. As cases increase, the hub hospitals have contingency plans to add another 149 ICU beds for a total of 439, according to the state’s gating criteria.

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In a crisis mode, the maximum number of ICU cases the state could accommodate is 623.

Eastern New Mexico Medical Center is the hub for the southeast part of the state. The hospital is  licensed for 162 beds, with 19 ICU beds. It could add another 15 under contingency plans but no more in crisis mode, according to the NMDOH website.

Although officials with Eastern and Lovelace did not provide actual numbers of their current hospitals’ capacities, both said their admissions have been on the rise.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, our hospital has accepted patient transfers from across the region, including patients with medical needs other than COVID-19,” ENMMC CEO Warren Yehl said in a statement to the Roswell Daily Record.

“Through the month of October, we have seen an increase in the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, as have other hospitals and communities across the state,” he said.

ENMMC has 11 “spoke” hospitals from which it receives transfers in the region. Those are Lovelace Regional Hospital, Roswell; Lincoln County Medical Center, Ruidoso; Artesia General Hospital, Artesia; Carlsbad Medical Center, Carlsbad; Nor-Lea General Hospital, Lovington; Lea Regional Hospital, Hobbs; Guadalupe County Hospital, Santa Rosa; Trigg Memorial Hospital, Tucumcari; Mescalero Indian Hospital, Mescalero; Plains Regional Medical Center, Clovis; and Roosevelt General Hospital, Portales.

Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer with Lovelace Health System, said its hospitals, including Lovelace Regional, have also seen an influx of patients.

“Definitely we’ve seen an increase in the numbers of patients that are being hospitalized. Just given the fact that El Paso has struggled right now and can’t accept patients, we’ve seen an increase in hospitalizations that’s been fairly dramatic over just the last few weeks,” she said in a phone interview.

The group’s hospital in Roswell is licensed for 27 beds.

“We have four ICU and in terms of what we will be able to handle for overflow COVID and worst-case scenario would be six,” Buddy Daniels, CEO of Lovelace Regional, said.

Daniels said the hospital’s respiratory center has been an asset in working with COVID-19 patients.

“Even though there is an escalation in terms of hospitalization, the majority of the people we’re finding with COVID do not require hospitalization, so we’ll be able to treat those patients in that respiratory center. And then of course, if we need to overflow with hospitalizations, we have avenues for that as well,” he said.

Those avenues include ventilators, Remdesivir — an antiviral drug that has received emergency approval for COVID-19 treatment — and high flow oxygen, Daniels said.

Daniels said at least three times a week, Lovelace and the other spoke hospitals in southeast New Mexico are in contact with ENMMC.

There is also a weekly conference call in the community that involves both hospitals, the local New Mexico Department of Health office, ambulance service, and even area schools.

“Once a week on Wednesdays, we touch base in terms of how numbers are looking, what we are talking about in terms of hospitalizations and the use of our (personal protection equipment),” Daniels said.

In addition, the seven hubs are in contact with each other frequently throughout each week, keeping status on each other and their regions, he said.

The Lovelace Regional CEO said if southeast New Mexico reaches an overflow of patients, the first place they will look to for transfers is Las Cruces. If that region is at capacity, then transfers will go to Albuquerque.

Daniels said Lovelace Regional staff members are able to move around among departments, so staff shortages caused by COVID-19 can be covered. So far, there have been few cases among the staff, he said.

The hospital limits the amount of visitors, and anyone in the facility is required to wear a surgical mask.

“So even cloth masks are no longer good enough. We upgraded to surgical masks,” he said.

Officials at both Roswell hospitals said that, even with the holidays approaching, it is still important to take actions to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 is a serious public health issue. We strongly encourage the community to follow CDC and New Mexico Department of Health guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus — practice social distancing, wear a mask or face covering, wash your hands frequently and stay home if you aren’t feeling well,” ENMMC’s Yehl said in his statement.

“We’re going to have to find safe ways we connect with family. We don’t want to affect aunts or uncles or grandparents,” Sandoval said.

“We have to understand that we need to stay separate and keep our families and communities safe.”

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.