First vaccine rolls out in New Mexico Monday

The first  batch of COVID-19 vaccines have already arrived in New Mexico. Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe received its first shipment of the first COVID-19 vaccine Monday. Christus St. Vincent was one of 145 hospitals in the country to receive the vaccine Monday, according to the hospital’s Facebook page.

COVID-19 hospitalizations grow, hospitals utilizing surge plans

Leaders from Albuquerque hospitals provided an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in their facilities, saying resources are stretched but not yet broken, and said the systems are working together to help patients. Lovelace Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vesta Sandoval said hospitals around the state are seeing an increased number of COVID-19 patients. 

As of Monday, the state of New Mexico reported that over 738 people are being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals statewide. “Everyone’s surge plans are activated,” Sandoval said. “Everybody is evaluating multiple times a day, our status, our bed status, our availability, communicating with everyone within our system, as well as the other facilities within the city and state, trying to have access for the patients that are coming in.”

Dr. Denise Gonzales, the medical director at Presbyterian, said she believed that the two-week shelter-in-place order that began Monday would have a positive impact on the number of hospitalizations. She said Presbyterian facilities are “filled well beyond what is our typical capacity.”

The three healthcare leaders also spoke about the toll the pandemic has taken on healthcare workers as they work to take care of the skyrocketing numbers of COVID-19 patients.” 

All hospitals have already taken measures to expand capacity as part of their surge plans.

With COVID-19 looming, NM hospitals tossed masks and other protective gear

“The hospital and the country knew it’s coming. And administration and staff are running around throwing out all sorts of supplies,” said a nurse at Albuquerque’s Presbyterian Hospital, one of the state’s largest medical centers. A 20-year employee of the hospital, she requested anonymity because she had not been authorized to speak to the media. 

“It’s sad, it’s horrific,” she said, ticking off a list of what was tossed out: hand sanitizer, masks, intravenous tubing, hospital gowns, bandages. “The whole closet.”

Pregnant women seek alternatives to hospital birth during pandemic

Professionals who assist with birthing center deliveries and at-home births in New Mexico say they are seeing more interest from soon-to-be parents because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One small midwife clinic in Albuquerque, Anidar ABQ Midwifery, is now getting four to five calls a day for at-home birth queries whereas, prior to the pandemic, it normally received about four to five calls every week or two, according to Claire Bettler, a certified midwife and nurse who owns the clinic. Birthing centers, which provide a more home-like setting for low-risk deliveries, are also seeing an increase in interest. Jessica Frechette-Gutfreund, midwife and executive director of Breath of My Heart Birthplace, said the Española-based birth center has seen its weekly call volume triple. “We’re getting somewhere between five and ten new inquiries a week.

UNM Hospital conducts trials with antimalarials and ebola drugs for possible COVID-19 treatment

A doctor at the University of New Mexico Hospital has launched clinical trials for multiple drugs that may be useful in treating COVID-19 in patients. 

Dr. Michelle Harkins, who is overseeing the trials, said she has been working on the frontlines of the outbreak in the hospital’s intensive care unit. 

“I’m a pulmonary critical care physician. I was on call for the first wave of COVID patients that came into the ICU,” Harkins told NM Political Report. Harkins said she began enrolling critically ill patients in the trials who were at the hospital and who agreed to the experimental treatment. 

“We’re looking at treating patients with COVID pneumonia that are critically ill. If the patient was able to consent, I presented the information to them that this is an experimental treatment, we don’t know if it’s going to help, but it’s been used worldwide, would you like to participate?” Harkins said. She also spoke with legal representatives for patients who weren’t able to communicate at that time. 

“Now, we’re actively enrolling in the ICU,” she said.

UNM researchers devise process for decontaminating PPE

A team of researchers at UNM established a set of protocols for decontaminating personal protective equipment that would be, under normal circumstances, disposable. The team, led by the UNM Center for Global Health director Douglas Perkins, will publish their findings on the preprint server for health sciences, MedRxiv.

Perkins told NM Political Report supply chain issues make securing protective gear a frequent problem at the pediatric ward of a rural government hospital in Kenya that he helps run.

How one woman copes with giving birth in the midst of a pandemic

Albuquerque resident Elena Rubinfeld is getting ready to give birth in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Rubinfeld’s partner is a healthcare provider working on the front lines of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, in an Albuquerque hospital. “I’m very proud of what he’s doing. I want him to be doing it. It’s extremely important.

Opportunity costs: Weighing a joint venture between children’s hospitals

Mike Chicarelli strode the halls of the children’s pavilion at the University of New Mexico Hospital, fist-bumping nurses and proudly pointing out the hospital’s kid-friendly touches: the surgery waiting room with seats shaped like hot air balloons, the intake counter designed like a 1950s soda fountain. The former emergency nurse, now chief operating officer of UNM Hospitals, was showing off what $234 million could buy a decade ago in infrastructure and technology. But all the bells and whistles haven’t been enough for UNM to hold onto its top pediatric specialists. Competition between UNM and Presbyterian Hospital – the two largest providers of pediatric specialty care in the state – has made it hard for either to sustain programs in cardiology, neurology and other areas of children’s medicine. The hospitals are now discussing a possible joint venture – a single children’s hospital, unified under common governance or housed under the same roof – that would help New Mexico retain hard-to-recruit pediatric specialists, improve care coordination and raise the bar on patient outcomes.

Settlement in UNM whistleblower suit involving alleged rape

After a contentious trial filled with tears, frustration and sharp warnings from the judge, both parties in a whistleblower lawsuit came to an agreement late Thursday night. The confidential settlement between the University of New Mexico Hospital and a former resident came after almost two weeks of testimony and hours before the jury was set to hear closing arguments. Former UNMH medical resident Dr. Cynthia Herald sued the school, alleging she was pushed out of the program after she told her bosses she was raped by a male colleague. UNMH attorneys disagreed, saying they removed her from the residency program because she made many possibly fatal mistakes during surgeries, had a prescription drug problem and did not take responsibility for her shortcomings. Related: See all our stories from this trial
Herald told reporters after the trial she feels “a huge sense of relief” but that the decision to settle was not an easy one.

Two more calls for a mistrial in UNMH whistleblower case

For a second day in a row fireworks lit up behind the scenes, without the jury present in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the University of New Mexico Hospital. Dr. Cynthia Herald, a former medical resident, filed the lawsuit, alleging she was fired after telling her bosses that a male colleague raped her. Update: The two sides reached a settlement. 

Like Wednesday, tensions between lawyers simmered Thursday morning, prompting District Judge Shannon Bacon to address both counsels. “You all hate this case,” Bacon said to lawyers for both UNMH and Herald. Bacon’s comment came after UNMH lawyers requested a mistrial, the third request so far in the two-week-long trial.