ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The leaders of local hospitals took a moment on Thursday to reflect on the lessons learned after one year of COVID-19 in New Mexico and to look ahead at how the pandemic may change the future of healthcare. The University of New Mexico Health, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Lovelace Health System, and CHRISTUS St. Vincent participated in the discussion via Zoom.

With a spike in COVID-19 patients in need of healthcare in November, hospitals in New Mexico came dangerously close to having to resort to crisis standards of care. That would have meant not everyone getting the healthcare they needed.

“I actually remember looking at the numbers and saying, ‘If this doesn’t turn down within a week, it’s clear that we are going to exceed.’ So, we were honestly within a week of hitting that as a system, where we would have been truly overwhelmed,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, the chief medical officer with Presbyterian.

Of course, things have improved since then. Still, the pandemic has forced hospitals to make a lot of changes. Some of those changes, they say, will likely be here to stay even after the pandemic. For instance, the CEO at CHRISTUS St. Vincent talked about healthcare workers diversifying their skill set, like certified nurse assistants learning how to become phlebotomists so that there were enough people who could draw blood.

“We’ve broadened the horizons and the professional opportunities for our workforce that gives us a lot more flexibility to continue to do the team-based approaches to caring for the community,” CHRISTUS St. Vincent CEO Lillian Montoya said.

The leaders from local hospitals also said they have seen fewer people in emergency rooms across the state. Dr. Mitchell from Presbyterian said he believes it is because hospitals are now offering lots of new ways to get care, such as telephone or video visits. They hope if they continue offering these things, New Mexico will not see busy emergency rooms and everyone will able to get the care they need faster and easier.

Another change everyone agreed that they would like to see continue is the way hospitals in the state and the New Mexico Department of Health have learned to communicate and collaborate to a degree they had never done before. They have been meeting, sometimes weekly, to share data and ideas in an effort to problem-solve in a constantly changing environment. “Our community needs to know that, at the end of the day, we are going to lean on each other as health systems to make sure New Mexicans are cared for,” said Montoya of CHRISTUS St. Vincent.

While COVID case numbers in the state are fairly low now, healthcare workers are looking ahead and preparing for what might be next. “I would say, probably, everybody is nervous because this is the month of spring break. People are spring breaking and then Easter weekend and then everybody goes back to school,” said UNM Hospitals CEO.

They want to get as many people vaccinated as possible before then in order to prevent another uptick in COVID-19 cases.