Home News COVID-19 Situation Health orders address non-essential surgical procedures, ‘crisis care’

Health orders address non-essential surgical procedures, ‘crisis care’

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Two new public health orders were announced by the New Mexico Department of Health Thursday, one limiting non-essential surgical procedures at hospitals and the other allowing certain types of health care workers to be certified as COVID-19 medical personnel and considered public employees for liability purposes if they provide care for COVID-19 patients.

In a Thursday afternoon livestreamed press conference, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that the state’s earlier shelter-in-place orders in November worked to “lower the curve” of COVID-19 infection rates, but that New Mexico and the rest of the country remains in “extreme risk.”

She said that hospitals and the available health care and medical workforce continue to be at capacity and overstretched due to the high numbers of infections and hospitalizations in the state, which totaled 916 on Thursday. COVID patients on ventilators totaled 159.

“New Mexico hospitals, they really need us to step it up,” said Lujan Grisham. “They have far too many patients for the number of health care providers we have in the state. And remember that New Mexico has fewer than the average per capita for other states. So we just have more risk here.”

New health orders

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The public health order regarding health care and medical workers took effect Wednesday and will remain in force until at least Jan. 5.

The public health order about non-essential surgical procedures at hospitals takes effect today and will continue until Jan. 4.

The order about health care workers pertains to board-licensed medical personnel. It will allow certified nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse specialists and certified nurse-midwives to apply to become “COVID-19 credential advanced practice clinicians.”

Medical doctors and doctors of osteopathic medicine can apply to be designated as “COVID-19 credentialed physicians.”

People who receive those designations are then considered qualified to care for COVID-19 patients and will be considered public employees for tort purposes. That means they and the institutions they work for could be shielded from legal liability in certain instances.

The order affecting hospitals will prohibit non-essential surgical procedures at hospitals designated as acute care hospitals. The order indicates that patients whose care is delayed should not be at risk of death, permanent injury or serious disease progression or at risk due to pregnancy or post-natal issues. It is also not meant to prohibit emergency medical or surgical care.

According to the state announcement, the new health orders follow a notification by the state Medical Advisory Team that hospitals are now operating under “crisis care” standards to meet the needs of COVID-19 patients.

“The governor’s recently enacted crisis standards of care demonstrates the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in our state,” said Whitney Marquez, communications director for Lovelace Regional Hospital of Roswell. “We are committed to provide access for patients requiring urgent or emergent procedures without delay. Temporarily postponing elective procedures when necessary will help create access for New Mexicans who require higher levels of care. The credentialing of health care providers and designation as public employees will allow us to expand our network of providers to help care for more patients.”

An Eastern New Mexico Medical Center spokesperson said ENMMC has complied with all state orders and will continue to do so.

“We encourage our patients to always seek immediate emergency medical care for serious conditions such as heart attack or stroke,” said Brooke Linthicum. “We also encourage our patients to continue to receive needed care. Many appointments can be done via telehealth and in-office appointments are available. As always, procedural decisions will be determined between the physician and patient as medical judgment takes precedence.”

She also thanked physicians and hospital staff and continued to urge compliance with health orders by New Mexico citizens.

“We understand many are experiencing COVID-19 messaging fatigue, but now, more than ever, it is imperative for us to consider how our actions affect others. Keeping up with COVID-19 preventive behaviors will be beneficial to your health and the health of your neighbors,” she said.

Linthicum echoed the message of Lujan Grisham and Dr. David Scrase, New Mexico Human Services Secretary, in saying that New Mexicans should wear face masks, avoid gatherings, wash their hands frequently and stay home if not feeling well. Lujan Grisham also said that people should seek to work from home if possible, use curbside service and limit their trips outside their home to three or fewer a day for work, errands and essential activities.

Numbers improving, but still too high

The latest data about the New Mexico COVID-19 spread rates indicate that the shelter-in-place orders that were in effect from Nov. 16 until Nov. 30 helped to lower the seven-day rolling average of test positivity rate from 24% on Nov. 24 to 13% by Dec. 6.

The infection spread rate also decreased to 0.79 on Dec. 6, down from 1.3 on Nov. 16. The spread rate indicates how many people become infected after one person tests positive. Less than one is the ideal rate, Scrase said.

Even with the strict orders, however, new daily cases and deaths in New Mexico remain high. On Thursday, the state reported 1,791 positive cases for the day and 23 additional deaths. (See related story.)

“The virus is the same,” said Scrase. “The reset did work. We have flattened the curve, but we have to keep doing everything we are doing.”

He and Lujan Grisham also talked about their expectation that the first 17,550 doses of a vaccine could be here as early as next week, with those going to hospital and health care workers at high or medium risk. The second round of vaccines would be for patients and staff of long-term care facilities.

They said that the first two priority groups of vaccine recipients are expected to take until February or spring of 2021 to be inoculated.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.