November 10, 2020

‘It’s getting worse.’ Hospital leaders warn that COVID-19 is stretching resources

Leaders from the three major hospital systems in Albuquerque warned that things are getting worse with COVID-19 not just in the city or state, but nationwide, and encouraged residents to do their part to mitigate the spread of the deadly disease to avoid further burdening hospitals, which are rapidly filling with patients.

This will include big changes to holiday celebrations for families.

Dr. Jason Mitchell, the Chief Medical Officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, provided a stark warning.

“I think what’s most important for everyone to recognize is that this pandemic is not getting better. At this point, it’s getting worse,” Mitchell said. “And in New Mexico, we’re seeing it get worse as well. The transmission rate is going up, our positivity rates are high. And we have got to do something different than we’re doing today.”

He warned that hospitals are close to being full, and this is with those who first became sick two to three weeks ago—”and so we know two, three weeks from now it will be a whole lot worse.”

Mitchell said that they have already exceeded the normal capacity of hospitals and are using contingency plans.

“We are now at the point where we’re using every single lever that we have,” he said, which included bringing in staff from outside the state and pulling in other staff that normally aren’t in a clinical setting to help in the hospital. 

The other leaders agreed that things are in a dire situation.

“We see that hospital resources and capacity are being strained throughout the state but particularly here in the metro area, as we struggle to deal with the rising numbers of COVID patients requiring care in our hospital, as well as the ongoing care for people who have other urgent and necessary medical conditions that need to receive care,” University of New Mexico Health System Executive Physician Dr. David Pitcher said.

Lovelace Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval said that this was all in addition to the normal operations of hospitals.

“The issue here is that patients are still coming in for other medical issues as well,” she said. “So, delivering babies, trauma, we have to continue to expand our space to be able to monitor and take care of all patient types.”

The doctors also warned that while there was promising news from vaccines, any such vaccine was likely months away from being rolled out and even longer away from being available for a significant portion of the community.

And that won’t help with what New Mexico is dealing with currently.

“The vaccine certainly is going to be helpful when it arrives,” Sandoval said. “But we need something to happen in the next one to two weeks. We need changes now. We can’t wait for a vaccine.”

She and the others encouraged New Mexicans to stay at home as much as possible, avoid travel and to wear masks when in public.

This includes upcoming holiday plans.

“Please, please, please understand that this is not the time to get together in large groups, as distressing as that may be for many families and others, it’s absolutely essential if we’re going to all get through this in the next couple of weeks and months,” Pitcher said.

Mitchell agreed and said the safest things for families is to not see each other in person.

“I know, I know, that’s terribly hard,” Mitchell said. “I haven’t seen my dad in a long, long time. And I would absolutely just love to see him. But it’s just not safe to do it right now. So I would encourage everyone to stop and think this is one holiday season of many in yours in your family’s life to come and in the past.”

New Mexico’s COVID-19 case counts have been rising at a rapid rate, with over 1,200 cases in each of the last three days. Deaths have also increased, with nearly 100 announced from the beginning of November to Sunday.