ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – When the pandemic hit New Mexico, the state moved to set up field hospitals to handle the potential overflow of COVID-19 patients. But when cases started surging over the past month, staffing became an issue.
Now, the state finally has a plan to open the old Lovelace Hospital on Gibson.
The state of New Mexico has been paying millions of dollars to rent the empty Gibson Medical Center in Albuquerque. As of Friday, November 20, the state is opening that site to a handful of recovering COVID-19 patients.
“We didn’t need as many of those resources, but I’ll tell you, I would rather have it, ask for it, make it available, and be prepared,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, during a news conference on May 13, 2020.
In April, the state locked into a one-year, $8.6 million lease to rent the vacant Gibson Medical Center in southeast Albuquerque. “We had a very aggressive 14-day construction timeline for this project,” said LTC Robin Scott, with the Army Corps of Engineers, back in April.
The Army Corps of Engineers worked quickly to transform the site into an alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients in the event hospitals needed overflow space. For months, the facility wasn’t needed – until now.
“Our local hospitals are stretched beyond their capacity,” said Dr. Tracie Collins, Secretary Designate for the New Mexico Department of Health.
“This site will provide support for the overflow,” Dr. Collins added. “We’ll be able to house the patients who are not quite ready to go home, but they don’t need acute services in a hospital.”
Starting Friday, the Gibson site will open its doors to six recovering COVID-19 patients. However, staffing is a concern.
“The Department of Workforce Solutions has called over 400 people who are listed on unemployment records as healthcare workers,” explained Dr. David Scrase, Secretary for the Human Services Department. “They’ve recruited 55 individuals so far. Mainly nurses and certified nurse assistants, which are exactly the priority for the recruiting.”
The site won’t be a free-standing hospital or have resources to treat patients in need of critical care. However, Dr. Collins explained, “We have two floors that provide continuous oxygen, and we have two floors that will be used to house persons who are isolating or quarantining.”
The ultimate capacity at the Gibson site is 180 beds. The idea is to move recovering patients there, which will help free up more beds in hospitals.
Dr. Scrase said next week, the Medical Advisory Team will continue evaluating expansion for the Gibson facility.
The state pays $720,000 a month to rent the facility. The current lease agreement ends in April 2021.