May 25, 2020

Roswell in-patient treatment facility that readied to take COVID-19 patients close to reopening

A state-owned drug and alcohol treatment facility in Roswell closed during the pandemic to prepare to help nearby hospitals if COVID-19 patients overloaded the local healthcare system.

Fortunately, the facility wasn’t needed, said Jose Gurrola, administrator for NM Rehabilitation Center in Roswell. Gurrola said the state’s Department of Health asked the facility to close so it could be used to quarantine patients who needed monitoring or to handle an overflow if the local hospitals in the southeastern part of the state became overwhelmed.

Now, Roswell’s NM Rehabilitation Center is preparing to reopen its in-patient services. Gurrola said the facility will start with its physical rehabilitation unit first for patients who have suffered things such as strokes and traumatic brain injuries, on June 1.

The unit that handles alcohol and substance abuse disorders is slated to open mid-to-late June, Gurrola said.

But that’s not soon enough for Carlsbad resident Derek Apodaca, who described himself as “32 going on dead.”

“I wake up in the morning; my hands, I can’t hold them still. I could be throwing up or not throwing up, especially if there’s nothing in my system. Dry heaving is not a fun thing,” Apodaca told NM Political Report.

Apodaca said he went through the Roswell facility’s in-patient 28-day program and was released on March 9. The state announced its first COVID-19 test positive case and stay-at-home orders two days later. 

“This is where the addict thing comes into play,” Apodaca said.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says anyone who suffers from addiction issues can relapse. It is not uncommon and dependency issues are an illness. Apodaca relapsed immediately and within nine days, he was back to the same condition he had been in when he started treatment in February, he said.

Now, the only thing that will calm the physical symptoms he is experiencing is drinking, he said.

Apodaca said he started drinking heavily when he was 20. At first, he was partying and having fun, he said. But in the last few years, he had begun to tell himself that if he didn’t quit, the drinking would kill him, he said.

Now he wants to go back into an in-patient treatment center because he doesn’t think he can go through detoxification on his own and survive it. The Roswell facility offers a five-day detoxification program before the 28-day inpatient treatment starts. He fears that waiting until mid-to-late June could be too late for him.

“I don’t want my mom to walk in and find me on the floor,” he said.

Getting help

Not all in-patient treatment facilities have closed during the pandemic. Jeanne Resendez, director of business development at Mesilla Valley Hospital in Las Cruces, said through an email that Mesilla Valley Hospital’s in-patient treatment remained open.

Mesilla Valley Hospital offers stays of five to seven days for patients who need to go through detoxification from chemical dependency. For children or adolescents who need psychiatric stabilization, in-patient treatment can run seven to ten days, she said through email.

Erika Kovacs, co-owner of an Albuquerque private treatment facility called The Recovery House, said her organization has room for eight in its in-patient treatment facility and, currently, there are six who are undergoing treatment.

Kovacs said The Recovery House has also stayed open during the pandemic. But staying open has meant changing how The Recovery House operates.

Sylvia Barela, chief executive officer of the Santa Fe Recovery Center, said that her facility in Santa Fe, which offers 30-day in-patient treatment, has not experienced interruptions either, but the Santa Fe Recovery Center has also made changes to protocols. The NM Rehabilitation Center in Roswell and Mesilla Valley Hospital have, too.

Those changes include mandatory mask wearing and hand washing, social distancing, and moving out-patient services to telehealth and telephonic visits.

Gurrola said that at the Roswell facility, entering and exiting the building has been limited to one entry and one exit point. When residents or staff enter, a staff person will check their temperature. Anyone entering the building will be required to fill out a questionnaire, hand sanitize and put on a mask before proceeding.

All patients who visit for in-patient treatment will be tested for COVID-19 before they can become residents of the facility. Gurrola said 15 percent of the staff and patients will be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis.

Kovacs said all patients coming in for in-patient treatment have to get tested for COVID-19 and are placed in a room for self-isolation at the facility for three days before the test comes back. If the test is negative, then the resident can proceed into the population and routine of the facility.

Barela said her facility doesn’t accept homeless patients now until they are tested for COVID-19. Her facility also offers tele-yoga as part of its new telehealth program for outpatients.

All the facilities said they’ve stopped in-person visitations to patients receiving treatment. Resendez wrote that staff help patients use Zoom to talk to loved ones.

Other facilities that are currently open that have in-patient treatment for alcohol and substance abuse disorders include Hoy Recovery Program in Velarde, Four Winds Behavioral Health in Rio Rancho, Golden Services Drug Rehabilitation Facility in Carlsbad and Turquoise Lodge Hospital in Albuquerque.

Barela said there is no repository of information where people who suffer dependency can find out which facility is open and which is not. But, she said most in-patient treatment facilities have remained open through the pandemic.  

Na Nizhoozhi Center (NCI), a treatment facility in Gallup, is only accepting patients who have tested positive or have recovered from COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.