ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Operating under “crisis standards of care” (CSC) for the last week amid hundreds of COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide, two of the state’s largest Albuquerque-based hospital systems addressed the continued emergency status at their facilities during a news conference Thursday morning. While the hospitals say they made the declaration to address the overwhelming numbers of patients in their facilities, they’re continuing to see more hospitalizations for patients with COVID-19.
“With this crisis standards of care, our focus was on level loading patients and transfers across hospitals around the state,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, Chief Medical Officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services. “Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much relief yet from this, the primary reason is because our COVID cases continues to climb.”
Dr. Mitchell said Thursday 20% of Presbyterian hospital beds across the state are filled with COVID-positive patients and of those people, 87% are unvaccinated. Presbyterian says it’s running at 120% capacity for its medical beds and ICU beds. Meanwhile, UNMH says the CSC declaration hasn’t provided much relief either.
“Because of the specialized services we provide in the state, specifically with certain types of pediatric, trauma and stroke care, we are trying very hard to make sure that the right patients come to our facility for care,” Dr. Rohini McKee, Chief Quality and Safety Officer at University of New Mexico Hospital. “We too have seen a rise in the number of COVID cases, but we continue to just see a large number of patients for a variety of other issues, many of whom are much sicker than we’ve seen in the past – probably because they have delayed care during the early parts of the pandemic.”
UNMH said Thursday it was at 140% capacity. Typically, that number has varied between 120% to 130% for the ICU and 120% to 150% for the “progressive care units.”
“This often means that patients have to be doubled up in ICU rooms, which is not something we did prior to the pandemic,” Dr. McKee said. “We have had to use all available bed space, we’ve had to convert areas that are not normally used for inpatient care into units for inpatient care, and similar to others, we have hundreds of traveling nurses who are at our institution to provide care to patients.”
As of this week, Presbyterian and UNMH are now among six hospital systems in New Mexico under the crisis standards of care designation. Alongside changes in the hospital’s legal status, crisis standards of care in part allows the hospitals to use a “standardized, equitable procedure for making decisions on who receives medical care.”
So far, both hospitals say they have not rationed or deallocated care for any patients and don’t anticipate they will anytime soon. However, UNMH emphasized there is “no room in our hospitals” and the facility “doesn’t want to a point” where they start rationing care.
“We do everything to avoid (deallocating care,)” said UNMH’s Dr. McKee. “Some of the steps we’re taking at UNM Hospital are to examine, with our executive surgical team, very closely the surgeries that we’re doing and making sure that those that can wait without fear of worsening symptoms or cancers, etc., are being asked to wait at this time.”
A CSC status allows the hospitals to delay “non-medically necessary procedures.” That could mean between a 30 and 90-day delay on some procedures, according to what hospital officials said in a news conference last week. Presbyterian’s Dr. Mitchell equated the continued press of more COVID hospitalizations to “watching a car wreck in slow motion.”
“I don’t know if it’s two months off or three months off or four months off, but we definitely can’t stay on the same trajectory,” Dr. Mitchell said. “At this point, I don’t know when (rationing care) is going to happen, but if something doesn’t change, we run a high risk as a state of truly running out of resources.”
New Mexico saw more than 500 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Wednesday. Dr. Mitchell said over the next two weeks, projections indicate almost 700 people hospitalized in the state with COVID-19 two-weeks from today.
“Usually the two-week projections on the modeling are pretty accurate,” Dr. Mitchell. “I don’t know how high that’s going to go, it really comes back and depends on us as a community and those COVID safe practices, mask-wearing, hand washing, avoiding large gatherings … and then also, it comes back to getting boosters and getting your first vaccine, as well.”