More patients in New Mexico ICU beds, not all due to COVID-19

Coronavirus New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico’s hospitals are seeing more patients in intensive care units, but they’re not all from coronavirus patients. KRQE News 13 spoke with health officials about what they’re noticing as people make their way back to their doctor.

When the state planned for a surge in coronavirus cases, the Medical Advisory Team made sure hospitals were prepared with more ICU beds than normal. Now, data shows a lot of those beds are being used.

“Now as a result of I think people being concerned about coming to the healthcare system, they delayed care and now are coming in with complications from not seeing their diabetes specialist, or not following up with their cardiologist,” explained Dr. David Scrase, Secretary of the Human Services Department.

Dr. Scrase explained when the pandemic hit, New Mexico’s Medical Advisory Team went to work doubling the normal amount of ICU beds in the state’s seven hub hospitals. The team also created a model for transferring patients in need of critical care.

“Together we were able to do that,” said Patti Kelley, Chief Nursing Officer at the University of New Mexico Hospital. “If we would have stayed as individual hospitals that could not have happened as well as it did.”

For example, the University of New Mexico’s pediatric surgery operating room is now an ICU. “This is not the pediatric high season, that usually starts in the fall, so we have the ability to do that,” explained Kelley.

On the state’s website, data shows the normal number of ICU beds or baseline capacity is 230. Since June 1st, the state has been above that baseline, with 286 ICU beds in use statewide.

“What we’re seeing are sicker patients coming into the emergency department and needing to be admitted to the ICUs,” said Kelley. “People who perhaps have a cardiac issue underlying and haven’t been to their doctor to get their medicines refilled, so they come in and now they’ve had a heart attack.”

Hospital staff explained the recent surge isn’t all due to COVID-19 or hospitals delaying elective procedures. “You have a real pileup I guess of patients who have just put things off, and to have that ache or that pain and they didn’t go into the doctor because they were scared,” Kelley explained.

Doctors are also seeing more trauma patients come in, earlier in the season than usual. “These are motorcycle accidents, car accidents, it could be falls, people up cleaning their roof off or cleaning out their gutters right now,” said Kelley.

“Once the weather got nice and people just wanted to be outside, so we’re seeing more injuries that are pretty severe,” she added.

Since more people are making appointments again, there are some delays, especially for new patients. Doctors are encouraging everyone to seek care if needed. “Everybody automatically thinks of a hospital or a doctor’s office as where you’re gonna catch it, and actually we’re safer than going to a grocery store or going out shopping for something else,” said Kelley. “Because we’re masking, we’re gloving, we’re doing good hand hygiene.”

Hospital capacity is of course something the state’s Medical Advisory Team is paying close attention to. If New Mexico sees more than 460 patients in ICU beds, that’s when crisis standards of care are invoked. The state’s maximum capacity for ICU beds is 614.

Albuquerque has also been getting patients transferred from the northwest part of the state, where they have smaller ICUs.

Hospitals are requiring visitors to wear masks and limiting visitors. To read more about what UNMH is doing to keep people safe, visit

New Mexico Coronavirus Resource Guide

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