Hospitalizations continue to surge because of high coronavirus spread and are likely to reach 700 patients statewide in the next two weeks as people travel and gather more for the holidays, officials at New Mexico’s largest hospitals said Thursday.
Executives at Presbyterian Healthcare Services and University of New Mexico Health described during an online update how the crisis standards of care they have implemented — a process they say makes it easier to transfer patients to other hospitals when needed — have not given them much relief amid the current coronavirus outbreak.
“The primary reason is that our COVID cases continue to climb,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, Presbyterian’s chief medical officer. “At this point, 20 percent of Presbyterian’s hospital beds across the state are filled with COVID positive patients.”
On Thursday, the state reported another 1,790 COVID-19 cases as New Mexico broke the 300,000-case plane. There were 599 people hospitalized.
Mitchell said 87 percent of Presbyterian’s infected patients are unvaccinated, emphasizing inoculation will protect the vast majority of people from the virus.
Various data trends indicate the state’s hospitalizations will spike to about 700 in the next couple of weeks as the holiday season gets underway, Mitchell said.
That probably won’t be enough to force already-stressed hospitals into rationed care, but if the surge doesn’t subside, hospitals will face a dire situation, he said. The problem is compounded by hospitals losing personnel who are burned out after dealing with a pandemic for almost two years, he said.
“It’s like watching a car wreck in slow motion,” Mitchell said.
Presbyterian’s network of hospitals around the state overall is consistently at about 120 percent capacity, including intensive care, he said.
University of New Mexico Hospital is at 140 percent capacity overall, and its intensive care is operating at 120 percent to 130 percent capacity, said Rohini McKee, the hospital’s chief quality and safety officer.
“This often means patients must be doubled up in ICU rooms,” she said. “We’ve had to use all available bed space. We’ve had to convert areas not normally used for in-patient care into units for in-patient care.”
Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center has limited bed capacity but accepts patients from hospitals that are overcrowded, Jon Wade, the hospital’s chief executive, wrote in an email.
“Patient counts change every day, but generally Santa Fe has not been as hard hit as some other communities in New Mexico,” Wade wrote. “We have been actively engaged with hospitals in harder hit communities to accept patients as our capacity allows.”
Taking patients from other areas has pushed the hospital’s intensive care units to 137 percent above expected volumes, but they aren’t overflowing, Wade added.
Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center has experienced an unprecedented jump in patient volume combined with a shortage of nurses and support staff, though most of the increase is from non-COVID-19 patients, hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado wrote in an email.
Intensive care is at 106 percent capacity and includes 16 COVID-19 patients, he wrote. Other types of medical care are running at 119 percent capacity, he added.
“We are actively rescheduling some non-essential in-patient procedures requiring an overnight admission,” he wrote. “This will help us ensure bed availability for those who are more acutely ill.”
Health officials have said the coronavirus’s faster-spreading delta variant is infecting the unvaccinated population by at least twice the rate as previous strains. This more infectious variant, combined with vaccinations wearing off after about six months, has led to an increasing number of breakthrough cases among the immunized, health officials say.
Roughly a quarter of those hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19 were vaccinated, according to recent state health data.
“We are not just right back where we were last year with the holidays and how to think about that,” McKee said. “We are probably in a worse place because the delta variant is so much more contagious than the original COVID virus we were dealing with last year.”
Officials hope Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive order making all adults eligible for booster shots will decrease hospitalizations.
Both Mitchell and McKee emphasized the importance of people getting immunized, including with boosters, as soon as possible. They also said being vigilant in following COVID-19 precautions is critical, even if people are tired of them.
“There is no room in our hospitals, and we don’t want to get to a point where we are rationing care,” McKee said.