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.