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.

(12) comments

Steve Martinez

The N or KN-95 masks are the best to use. Why isn't our government issuing them to us?

Mike Johnson

MLG really doesn't want to see this "health emergency" end, it would mean the end of her dictatorial powers and control over the people, it's all politics.

Dottie Butler

We need to do what Austria has done and what Germany is about to do. Initiate a Covid lockdown for the unvaccinated.

For all of you out there that have chosen not to get vaccinated. Get vaccinated.

The rest of us need to go get a booster shot immediately if it has been six months since your second vaccine dose.

The lives you save may be more than just your own.

LeRoy Sanchez


Mike Johnson

MLG needs to issue a stay-at-home order for all citizens today to stop this carnage......and have the National Guard enforce it. Mask mandates are not working.

Ernest Green

If you had to guess Mike, would you say the unvaccinated folks (87% of which are causing the spike in local hospitalizations) are following public safety recommendations such as masking when indoors and in crowds or not so much? The problem described in this article is not the result of any health mandate, the issue is with the folks who disregard any such mandate and/or basic common sense including all effective precautions available to us right now (vaccine, masking with or w/out vaccine, if neither then avoid socializing indoors). Children have no problem following any of the above, both the actions and the logic. There is little reason why adults can't either.

LeRoy Sanchez


Kim Griego-Kiel

Wait! Mike! You confuse me. Are you suggesting this so you can complain some more about the Governor when she shuts things down? Because that is what you do best on every article, you blame Governor Lujan-Grisham! And here you are suggesting she do something to stop the spread of the virus by issuing a stay-at-home order. And call out the National Guard. Hmmm, that will shut down business, people can’t shop, go to work, they will need to WFH, no thanksgiving gatherings. Hey, I’m all for this. But I’m pretty sure this is a fake Mike post. 🤣

LeRoy Sanchez


Alexander Brown

Isn't it long past due for Hospital workers dealing with Covid to get a substantial Hazard Pay. 87% of the Covid Patients are unvaccinated, most by choice. "Losing Hospital personnel from Burn-Out" needs be addressed in a way that respects their service.

Emily Hartigan


Margaret Eyler

Definitely agree health care professionals should be paid more. But once you start talking about “choices” that people make before they end up in a hospital, recognize that obesity and substance abuse are also “choices” that result in MANY more hospital beds being occupied than covid. For decades.

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