Traveling ICU nurse describes work at local hospital amid COVID-19

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rising, local hospitals are bringing in help from outside of the state to assist. Traveling nurses in Albuquerque said they are seeing the numbers steadily rising. They said their ICU units have been turned into negative pressure rooms for COVID-19 patients because there is nowhere else to put them.

Courtney Blakely said she has been pushed to the limit in 2020. “I feel like I have learned so much,” Blakely said. “I have tapped into this resilience I had no idea was there because I didn’t have to tap into it.”

She is a traveling ICU nurse. When the pandemic began, she was at a hospital in San Francisco. She described it as ‘unorganized’ initially as everyone tried to figure out what works.

In May, she moved to a hospital outside of Washington D.C. when she said COVID numbers were dropping there. Now, she is in Albuquerque. “When I came here, the cases were kind of low,” Blakely said. “The doctors said they expect the surge, and they were absolutely right.”

She said when she interviewed at UNM Hospital back in September, she was told there were just six COVID patients in the entire hospital. Now, she said there are six in just her neuro ICU unit. “Because numbers are so high, it is pouring over into the other ICUs we have,” Blakely said. “There are three ICUs at UNM, and we pretty much all have them.”

Local hospitals are making a push to bring in more out of state workers to meet the need. Presbyterian told KRQE News 13 they brought in 56 workers in the past week and expect more to come.

Lovelace said they currently have 103. Blakely said she is seeing more and more at UNM. “They told us they bring in at least 30 nurses a week,” Blakely said. “You see 15 nurses that are assigned to our ICU. Sometimes, there are maybe five or six nurses that actually work at the hospital. Everyone else is a traveling nurse.”

She said caring for COVID patients is trying. “I have seen people that one day are talking, completely alert and oriented and are following commands,” Blakely said. “Then, they literally pass away the next week.”

Blakely said she is choosing to focus on the positive. “Just stay resilient and keep a good outlook because this will not last forever,” she said. “I just keep telling myself that this will not last forever.”

Blakely said she recently submitted a contract extension to stay at UNM through February. She said she feels safe there due to the hospital being well-staffed with adequate PPE. Blakely said she doesn’t want to risk going somewhere else and possibly losing those things.

UNMH said it is currently treating more COVID patients than ever before in this pandemic. During the governor’s press conference last week, healthcare officials said that traveling nurses give hospitals the ability to increase hospital capacity and give relief to employed nurses.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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