Small numbers of staff departures haven’t caused great concern, but hospitals overflowing with patients have, doctors representing four of the state’s largest hospitals said Thursday.

In a Zoom news conference, the physicians agreed summer typically allows hospital staffers a chance to breathe and recuperate. But the resurgence of COVID-19 in the past two months has put the state’s medical facilities in a difficult position.

The high occupancy rates at some of the state’s largest hospitals — including Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Lovelace Health System and University of New Mexico Hospital — are a result of the coronavirus pandemic, trauma patients and people who delayed care during the pandemic.

Dr. Denise Gonzales, medical director of Presbyterian, said her system has repurposed areas to accommodate patients and turned some private rooms into semi-private rooms.

Dr. Rohini McKee, chief quality and safety officer with UNM Hospital, said health care workers have faced a seemingly “unending ordeal” since the coronavirus outbreak started in early 2020.

McKee said this time of year usually produces occupancy of about 90 percent to 100 percent at her hospital, but it’s at 120 percent to 140 percent now.

Based on state modeling, hospitalizations from the recent delta variant surge will hit a high late this month, McKee said, assuming a new variant doesn’t worsen matters.

Although Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s vaccination mandate for hospital workers prompted worry over mass defections, the doctors indicated that hasn’t happened. At least three said those who don’t get the shots are placed on leave and have a chance to come back if they comply with the mandate.

Dr. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer of Lovelace, said only four to six staffers chose to leave her system rather than get the vaccinations. Some staffers in New Mexico also can avoid the shots with medical or religious exemptions but must get a weekly coronavirus test, according to the mandate.

Dr. David Gonzales of Christus St. Vincent said two traveling nurses — those who go from hospital to hospital on short-term contracts — left for other states after the mandate was declared. Most of the approximately 200 employees who hadn’t been vaccinated either chose to get the shots or received exemptions, he said.

Presbyterian’s Gonzales said 97 percent of her system’s workforce of 13,000 have been vaccinated or received exemptions. Those who don’t fall in those categories will be placed on personal leave and given a chance to get vaccinated, she said.

McKee said more than 95 percent of UNM Hospital staffers are vaccinated or have been exempted.

“We have a very few employees who have made the decision to separate from the organization at this time,” she said. And while there is a nursing shortage here and elsewhere, McKee said the shortage won’t worsen because of the “very small population” that has left the hospital.

(8) comments

Mike Johnson

This is serious, maybe MLG should issue public health orders to wear a mask and get vaccinated, that'll do it......she is so persuasive and respected.......[lol][lol]

Robert Fields

She actually is. Unlike certain fossil fuel mouthpieces…

Mike Johnson

[lol][lol][lol] Right.....

Robert Fields

My responses are unfortunately limited by the obscenity filter.

Mike Johnson

Yes Mr. Fields, the innocent people on this forum are very lucky the rules of decorum in comments are as they are. Otherwise, if we really truly said what we really thought about each other it would be very ugly, exactly as happens on most social media these days when people disagree on politics. Nasty stuff alright......that is what America is today.

Robert Fields

It’s tragic but the unvaccinated now are militantly unvaccinated. Pfizer has been fully approved, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are due soon. Half the US population has had the shots. While there have been complications and even deaths from the vaccines, that is extremely rare and the risks of dying from covid are many thousands of times greater.

Some have legitimate reasons such as allergies, but most now won’t get the shots thanks to a weird belief that laypeople with twitter accounts, facebook pages, or who post on social media somehow know more than those who have devoted their lives and careers to fighting infectious diseases. Even tweets and posts by the dying as they try to get others to wake up even though it’s too late for them don’t sway the unvaccinated.

Threats of long hospital stays, sedation and intubation, lung transplants, and death haven’t convinced them. The only thing that seems to work to convince holdouts now is their own rides to the hospital, sitting in an ambulance until a bed opens up for them, their own lives slipping away. When they get their own personal come to Jesus moment, then they decide they want the shots but it’s too late. Whatever their fate is to be has already been decided.

The anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, and anti-distancers have caused the deaths of far too many thousands of people. Now they are clogging hospitals and tying up ICU beds that others need. Yeah, it’s their time of need and they should have care, but they do/did it to themselves while causing others to die. Hard to feel much sympathy for them.

Carolyn DM

Very well stated. The unvaccinated who have been brainwashed by the Right since Mr. Trumpf made COVID political, just need to head for their churches for salvation when they end up with the virus, instead of having our medical resources wasted on them. Doctors and nurses are trained in science and science developed the vaccine, so god forbid should the fake christians rely on that silliness to save their pathetic low-IQ lives. After all, Jesus Saves, doesn't he?

Robert Fields


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