November 24, 2020

Hospitals under contingency plans, worry about post-holiday surge pushing them to crisis mode

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In a weekly press conference, hospital leaders in Albuquerque said they are currently operating under contingency operations and if things don’t improve in New Mexico, would have to shift to crisis care.

To avoid this, they all encouraged New Mexicans to follow COVID-safe practices, including avoiding gatherings, like family celebrations during Thanksgiving. 

“We need to pull together in this time, and we need to really focus on taking care of each other,” Lovelace Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval said. “And the best way that we can do that right now is not to gather, to stay home and try and really focus in on the fact that this is what we can do to control this virus.”

She noted that family gatherings have been a major source of COVID-19 spread in recent weeks.

Presbyterian Chief Patient Safety Officer and Medical Director of Infection Control Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harman said that residents and families should look forward beyond just the upcoming holidays.

“It’s a very difficult time with the holidays approaching wanting to be with families,” Salvon-Harman said. “But if you think in the long run, those things you do now, and get-togethers you may forego this year because of the pandemic will help to ensure that those family members and friends are there in the next years to enjoy those get-togethers.”

The current situation is critical, they emphasized, and would determine what actions the hospitals would need to take in the coming weeks and months.

“Our health care providers are doing everything that they can, our facilities are doing everything that we can, but if the virus continues to spread as it is, we are not going to be able to take care of the numbers that we’re expecting,” Sandoval said.

Those who are infected during Thanksgiving likely would not impact hospitalizations for three to four weeks, Dr. Rohini McKee, the hospital chief quality and safety officer at the University of New Mexico Hospital, said.

“So if we don’t see the behaviors that we’re hoping for from the community, we are going to see that reflected in our inability to provide care because we are full in about three to four weeks time,” she said.

The holiday comes as the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to grow, with each showing recording single-day numbers in the last week.

Salvon-Harman said Prebyterian is prepared and in contingency mode, but “we absolutely are challenged right now” and that the larger problem is with physical space.

McKee said that crisis standards of care mean “you get to a point where you focus on the good of a population and strategies that can do the most good for the most people, rather than focusing on an individual.”

Salvon-Harman said that if the state enters into crisis standard of care, they could have health care staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic to treat those COVID-19 patients—or in a worst-case scenario, even treat patients who are not COVID-19 positive.

“That’s a position we don’t want to get to but that we have provisions in place if that’s the only way that we can continue to staff our facility to provide that critical care to patients,” he said.

Sandoval noted that avoiding this is a major reason behind the state’s current shutdown.