Every day is a new day at a newish hospital.

March 17 was the date telehealth started at Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center on the city’s south side. Six days earlier, New Mexico had its first reported novel coronavirus case.

“We were headed there, but it was accelerated” with coronavirus, said Dr. Anne Foster, the hospital’s chief medical officer. “This COVID journey has brought us to telecare much faster.”

Now, a large share of the hospital’s outpatient care that does not involve medical procedures is done by phone or video, and telehealth accounts for up to 80 percent of Presbyterian’s primary care clinic on St. Michael’s Drive.

It probably wasn’t what hospital officials had in mind when the $145 million hospital complex opened in October 2018. But the COVID-19 crisis has forced Presbyterian to alter its plans, and officials say they will continue to adapt to new realities.

Telehealth — doctors and patients meeting on phone or video — instantly came into widespread use nationwide in the COVID-19 era as many people stayed home. Many states, including New Mexico, stopped elective surgeries to make room for potential virus cases.

Such adjustments were not in the new hospital’s game plan at the start of March, but officials said the ability to be flexible may have been present from the hospital’s early days.

“I feel the [employees] who came here first had a pioneering attitude,” said Jon Wade, who started April 1 as Presbyterian Santa Fe’s first CEO. “We’re used to having to do what we need to do.”

For some, the concept of a hospital, even a small one, on the south side was long overdue.

Patient Mary Holcomb moved into the Tierra Contenta subdivision three years ago as Presbyterian Santa Fe was in early stages of construction. She said the south-side location checks one of the boxes on her list of good places to live.

“Every test I’ve needed, I could get it within the week,” said Holcomb, adding that some tests she could get the same day or the next day. “Tests [for Presbyterian Healthcare Services’ patients in Santa Fe] before were kind of limited at the St. Michael’s clinic.”

But even the new facility has limitations, at least compared to larger hospitals.

Presbyterian remains the small fish in Santa Fe, with 30 inpatient beds.

That’s in stark contrast to the 200 beds at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, the largest hospital in Northern New Mexico. Presbyterian Healthcare Services is the largest hospital system in New Mexico, and the Santa Fe facility retains a tight bond with Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque.

On the other hand, Presbyterian Santa Fe has been busy, particularly since the pandemic emerged in New Mexico. Presbyterian set up a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site, and since then it has conducted more than 6,500 tests with nine COVID-19 patients admitted through July 6.

Presbyterian officials were clearly betting on growth even before the pandemic.

The 342,000-square-foot flagship building was followed by a birthing center in February 2019.

Two intensive care unit beds, which opened June 1, will grow to six by the end of the summer, Foster said. A cardiac/nuclear services department is scheduled to open by the end of the year on the still-vacant third floor.

Foster decided to have an urgent care center incorporated with the hospital.

That enables doctors to easily determine whether a patient is best served at urgent care or in emergency care in an age where many people without primary doctors automatically go to the ER.

“It’s right care, right time, right price,” Foster said.

Still, the hospital’s third floor awaits expansion. A time frame has not been set for adding up to 42 patient beds, but construction is pending on an 11,000-square-foot space for cardiac and nuclear services with dedicated room for three or four cardiologist practices.

“COVID-19 didn’t impact the timeline for the third floor or other services mentioned,” Wade said.

Wade arrived in Santa Fe from St. Louis with the coronavirus pandemic in full swing after deciding in mid-February to come here.

He could hit the ground running, in part, because he has experience setting up military field hospitals.

“I came from an independent district hospital where there was no support,” Wade said. “Presbyterian has so many resources available.”

As a new hospital, Presbyterian Santa Fe is still ramping up its medical roster.

Twenty-one doctors have accepted posts since January and 48 nursing staff positions were filled in the same time frame, Wade said.

The hospital remains focused on recruitment and retention, Wade said. “Recruiting clinical staff, particularly surgeons and other in-demand specialists, is always a challenge. But we are encouraged by our progress.”

Presbyterian Santa Fe has brought on a cardiologist and is recruiting another. Several new emergency medicine providers have joined, as have family practice, internal medicine and two OB-GYN physicians. Wade said a dermatologist, endocrinologist and urologist should join the staff in the near future.

Before the pandemic, the campus set out to be a lifestyle center and a community lunch destination as well as a hospital. But with social distancing and limitations on crowds now the order of the day and year, exactly when the lifestyle center dynamic can return is unknown.

Presbyterian has developed 23 acres of the 39 acres it owns on Beckner Road.

A 47,690-square-foot health services building is in the planning stages for 5.02 acres at the southeast corner of Beckner and Rail Runner roads.

A tenant has not been announced, and a construction schedule will be determined in the next few months.

“The vision here is a total health park,” Foster said. “We own quite a few acres here. This is going to look different in five years.”

(2) comments

Nanci Cartwright

After a horrendous experience in the ER room at Christus (they didn’t take me seriously after a back “accident” at a chiropractor’s office) until I arrived the second time the next morning via ambulance because they didn’t treat me properly the first time, the afternoon before), when I had an Afib episode (first one in 10 years), I chose to go to Presbyterian. Not only do they have private, closed spaces for emergency patients, I was treated with so much respect an with such care by the doctor and the nurses there, that even though at that time they didn’t have a cardiologist on staff (hurray, now they do!) they got my issue under control enough that I could return home. If I ever have another afib episode, or any emergency need in the future, you can bet that Presbyterian will be my hospital of choice. I’m happy to hear that they are still growing and adding services. We definitely need good medical services in this town. Thank you doctors and nurses at Presbyterian.

David Ford

We had similar experiences at the Christus ER. I had a severe sciatica attack and was screaming in pain. Once checked in it was 90 minutes before someone came by (other than to close the door because of my screams). Another time my wife and I sat there for 2 hours (!) without anyone coming by. When we started to walk out a nurse at the desk said we can't leave, we said watch us and explained the horrendous "service" they provided. However their billing department was extremely quick to respond! We have had some positive experiences with the surgery department and the floor staff but next time we need an ER we will be going to Presbyterian because our only experience at the Presbyterian ER was excellent and extremely positive and in complete contrast to Christus.....

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