Correction Issued Below
NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As coronavirus cases surge in New Mexico, the state is getting some relief from healthcare workers across the country. “Every day, it seems like we have a record number of people in the hospitals, but it isn’t the beds that are the problem, it’s the staff,” explained Dr. David Scrase, Secretary for the Human Services Department. “So we’re very focused on trying to help in every way we possibly can to get additional staff into the state.”
Dr. Scrase explained in a normal year, New Mexico hospitals are typically 60% – 70% full. With COVID-19 cases surging now, “Now they’re in the 90% – 100% full,” said Dr. Scrase.
It’s why Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order to hit the ‘reset’ button, and try and get caseloads down. Dr. Scrase said the state has also stepped up recruiting efforts for traveling nurses. “If you’re out there and you’re a medical person who wants to find a way to help, please go online and search on the Medical Reserve Corps and sign yourself up,” Dr. Scrase said.
Presbyterian Hospital recently brought in approximately 150 traveling nurses in the past three weeks, with an additional 140 anticipated by the end of November. Presbyterian is working directly with staffing companies to meet recruitment needs.
Lovelace currently has 103 contract nurses helping staff care for patients. University of New Mexico Hospital brought in 250-350 additional nurses at different points.
UNM Health sent KRQE News 13 the following statement:
“UNM Health utilizes traveling nurses to help supplement our incredibly hard-working staff and providers. As we use our pandemic influenza plan to adjust for patient surges and staffing levels, our mission to put patients first drives all decisions. Traveling nurses have allowed us to continue to treat New Mexicans as our hospital has increased our capacity and is currently treating more COVID patients than ever before in this pandemic.
We appreciate all New Mexicans doing their part to reduce the spread of COVID by wearing a mask, staying socially distant and practicing good hygiene.”
“When I came here it was kinda low, and they were like, ‘But we expect a surge,’ and they were absolutely right,” said Courtney Blakely, a traveling ICU nurse working at UNMH..
With new daily COVID-19 cases in the thousands, and record hospitalizations, Dr. Scrase said hundreds of traveling nurses are expected in New Mexico. “I get text messages from friends saying, ‘Hey what can I do to help now?'” said Dr. Scrase. “Very gratifying. It’s really nice to see so many people stepping up and trying to help as we’re dealing with this deluge of cases, hospitalizations, and unfortunately, deaths.”
Dr. Scrase said the state is also working to keep up with the high demand for testing and contact tracing. “Public Health Orders themselves don’t reduce the spread of the virus, it’s people cooperating with the public health orders, doing what they say,” said Dr. Scrase. “We can’t turn this around without the cooperation of every New Mexican.”
Healthcare workers are exempt from the two-week travel quarantine. There’s also an exemption to the 25% occupancy limit for hotels, for housing healthcare workers.
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Correction: An earlier version of this report stated Presbyterian Hospital brought in 56 traveling nurses. That number has since been updated to 150 traveling nurses, with more arriving this month.