Santa Fe-area hospitals are incorporating postponed procedures back into their schedules following the release of new guidelines from the state Medical Advisory Team.
The team is a group of more than 100 officials and experts set up by the New Mexico Department of Health to reshape the state’s health care system during the COVID-19 crisis, including developing best practices.
Its revised guidelines offer suggestions for providers to evaluate services and establish requirements for levels of personal protective equipment.
Dr. Jose Sterling, a trauma surgeon at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and member of the state Medical Advisory Team, said the 200-bed hospital is operating at 50 percent of its capacity.
Sterling said patients are given a COVID-19 test to see if they are shedding the virus, and some patients also are given antibody tests to see if they were exposed.
Sterling said hospitals did a great job of messaging people at the beginning of the outbreak to stay home unless it was an emergency. But now he said hospitals need to transition to providing care.
“Even before this, people were waiting too long to get regular health care and then experiencing complications from a condition,” Sterling said. “People are being hurt from waiting too long, and we want patients to know this is a safe place.”
Sterling said the hospital still is not performing elective or cosmetic procedures. He said a lot of the screening and determination for care are decided via telemedicine and video chats.
Jon Wade, chief executive at Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center, said the hospital had about 200 procedures deemed “nonessential,” meaning they don’t need to be performed in a specific time frame.
“It could be a gallbladder surgery or a shoulder replacement,” Wade said. “It’s hard to pick it off a menu because if someone’s in pain or conditions develop, it may be necessary.”
He said Presbyterian is working to clear the backlog by contacting patients to set up screenings with surgeons to look at their health. He said patients and family members will be screened over the phone. Anyone scheduled to come into the hospital will need a COVID-19 test at least three days beforehand.
Patients will go through the drive-thru screening area, where they will be asked questions, have their temperatures taken again and be given a mask before being taken to an exam room. He also asked that approved visitors wear masks and wait in their cars until they can be directed inside.
“No one’s going to be waiting in a public space,” Wade said.
Wade said the hospital can accommodate about 20 to 25 patients in the hospital a day.
In March, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a public health order to hospitals and other health care agencies to postpone all nonurgent procedures and services, in anticipation of a surge of people needing treatment for COVID-19 and to help prevent the virus from spreading.
The loss of patients and revenue put hospitals in a financial crunch.
Since mid-March, Christus St. Vincent and its clinics saw a nearly 35 percent decline in patients, with net revenue down $10 million per month, CEO Lillian Montoya told The New Mexican when the hospital placed 300 employees on temporary leave for 90 days at the end of April.