Staffing shortages, overcrowding plagues rural New Mexico hospitals amid COVID-19 pandemic

·4 min read

Occupied intensive care unit (ICU) beds and hospital staffing shortages left New Mexico hospitals unprepared to handle COVID-19 omicron patients, a recent study cited.

The study, prepared by the QuoteWizard financial website, said New Mexico was the third-least-prepared state for handling increased number of COVID-19 cases.

“We have been looking at hospital capacity essentially since the pandemic started and it’s always been a major concern because the hospitals are so full when it comes to their ICU’s,” said Nick VinZant, QuoteWizard senior analyst.

Texas and Georgia were ahead of New Mexico in overcrowded ICU rooms, the study read.

Texas had 91 percent of its ICU beds in use and Georgia had 86 percent of its ICU beds occupied, the study indicated.

More: Carlsbad healthcare providers face challenges unlike any other over pandemic

“When we look in New Mexico specifically what we found is ICU’s are 90 percent full. That’s one of the highest rates in the country,” VinZant said.

For the first time, people across the U.S. can log on to a government website and order free, at-home COVID-19 tests.
For the first time, people across the U.S. can log on to a government website and order free, at-home COVID-19 tests.

Besides overcrowded ICU beds, he said hospital staff shortages impacted treatment as well across New Mexico and the United States.

“In New Mexico, 53 percent of hospitals are reporting a critical staffing shortage. That is the fourth highest rate nationwide,” VinZant said.

VinZant said New Mexico hospitals might face ramifications of not being able to treat people with COVID-19 or other medical situations.

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“Because the hospitals are full and understaffed,” he said.

Per the study, Texas and Georgia hospitals did not have as many critical staffing shortages as New Mexico.

Twenty-three percent of Texas hospitals and 28 percent of Georgia hospitals had critical staffing issues, per the study.

Lovelace Regional Hospital in Roswell.
Lovelace Regional Hospital in Roswell.

What New Mexico hospitals are reaching capacity?

Chief Medical Officer for Lovelace Health Systems Dr. Vesta Sandoval said hospitals in Albuquerque and Roswell operated at 135 percent above normal capacity for ICU as of Jan. 19.

“This is for all of our hospitals in the region. We also know across the State, it’s challenging for multiple reasons,” she said.

Lovelace Health Systems has five hospitals in the Albuquerque area and Lovelace Regional Hospital in Roswell, according to the company’s website.

Sandoval said COVID-19 presented unique challenges to New Mexico medical facilities.

“We have a very rural state, which is relatively poor, and we don’t have a lot of hospitals in our state. We don’t have many ICU beds,” she said.

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Sandoval said some of New Mexico’s smaller medical establishments did not have an adequate number of doctors and nurses at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“I think the entire country wasn’t prepared for the pandemic and quite unique to New Mexico that due to the fact ICU beds are full and there are staff shortages because we see that all across the country and in areas where there have been spikes of COVID (-19),” she said.

Carlsbad Medical Center monitored capacity throughout any given day as patients are admitted and discharged, said Spokesperson Melissa Suggs.

“During this most recent surge, our hospital continues to be busy, but we do have availability to care for COVID-19 patients and patients with other medical needs. As always, we encourage those experiencing a medical emergency or those who need care to not delay seeking it,” she said.

The entrance sign at Carlsbad Medical Center.
The entrance sign at Carlsbad Medical Center.

'There's not enough staff'

VinZant said lack of ICU beds gained attention across New Mexico and the United States and lack of staff was a major hidden factor.

“I think that is going to be a problem as we move forward. There’s not enough staff and the staff that is already there is running at its limits in a lot of places,” he said.

Sandoval said traveling doctors and nurses for hospitals like Lovelace was one solution to the staffing shortage.

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“That is challenging because you’re facing shortages in the United States and you’re competing with California, Texas, Colorado and every other state who’s trying to pay extremely high rates to attract nursing to be able to work in their facilities,” she said.

Sandoval said the State of New Mexico obtained contracts for state nurses to offer aid at rural facilities.

President Joe Biden announced Jan. 13 that 1,000 military medical personnel would be deployed across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

“We are grateful for our dedicated staff as well as the contract employees and state-sponsored Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff who are helping to supplement our team. They all are working tirelessly to care for our patients,” Suggs said of patient care in Carlsbad.

Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at MSmith@currentargus.com or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Crowded ICU, lack of staff hamper COVID patients in New Mexico

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