The News-Sun conducted a Q&A with Nor-Lea Hospital CEO David Shaw regarding the hospital’s efforts in facing the COVID-19 pandemic.
How do you address the fact that Lea County has been fortunate to have only two positive cases at this point in the pandemic?
Lea County, relative to other parts of the country is very rural and residents had the benefit of seeing what was happening with the virus in other parts of the country prior to it showing up in New Mexico. The governor’s actions to close schools and activate the stay at home order much earlier gave us a jump on the virus.
How many COVID-19 tests has your hospital performed?
Nor-Lea Hospital District has sent 153 COVD19 test sample to the NM State Lab as of April 10.
How does your hospital replenish its Personal Protective Equipment for the staff ?
Our primary suppliers of Personal Protective Equipment have either placed our orders on back order or on partial allotment. A small amount of our PPE has come from the N.M. strategic stockpiles; however, the vast majority has come from volunteers, donations and sources in Mexico.
What is the status of your hospital’s supply of PPE gear?
Nor-Lea is fortunate with the many donations and the seamstresses in Lea County who have made us masks from surgical drape to have a sufficient supply to make it an additional 60-90 days depending on how difficult the surge becomes.
How helpful have community donations of masks been to your hospital?
The community donations have made all the difference. Without their generosity and hard work, patients and some staff may have had to work in conditions that would have been less than ideal. These donations have been uplifting to our care teams and given them confidence to take on the struggles that lay before us.
What are your uses for any donated masks?
N95 masks are used by caregivers in direct contact with patients who are in isolation due to a suspected or known highly contagious disease. The handmade masks are used with patients who have a fever or cough. They are also used by staff to protect them from airborne contaminants.
What other donations have your hospital received?
The people of Lea County have been wonderful. Many have donated meals and drinks to the staff. Others have offered their time, verbal support and lifted up prayer for our staff.
Have there been any incidents of possible exposure to hospital staff while performing tests, leading to self-isolation?
A small number of staff were briefly exposed to a COVID-19 patient. The staff were placed in self-quarantine for 14 days and have all returned to duty. Their risk of exposure was deemed very low probability by a New Mexico Department of Health epidemiologist.
What is your hospital’s protocol for handling a patient positive with COVID-19?
Patients are initially isolated in our reverse isolation room pending results. We minimize the amount of staff entering the room with full Personal Protective Equipment. When a positive result is determined, we continue with isolation precautions and attempt to transfer to higher level of care in the event that the patient’s condition worsens.
How many hospital beds does your hospital have, which are available for COVID-19 patients?
The hospital has 25 beds; however, we can increase our capacity to 33 beds in the event of a surge.
What is your plan if your hospital fills all your beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients? Do you anticipate filling all the beds?
Lea Regional and Nor-Lea will work together to utilize our beds in Lea County. Once they are both filled, Nor-Lea will work with its Texas partners to transfer critically ill patients to a higher level of care. Covenant or University Medical Center in Lubbock will be our primary referral pattern in a surge; however, we are working closely with Eastern Medical Center in Roswell in the event Lubbock facilities are filled to capacity.
How many ventilators does your hospital have, and how many more do you expect to need?
Nor-Lea has eight ventilators. I don’t anticipate needing to use these ventilators for an extended period of time.
What is the one or two things you wish the public would know or understand about the current situation in Lea County?
I want our communities to know how proud I am of our staff. This situation presents unique challenges and uncertainties. Despite this our staff have courageously faced these fears; because they love their patients and the communities they serve. I know they will respond however the situation requires. All of us at Nor-Lea feel it’s a privilege to work for you each day. Our staff have only a few requests: please continue to practice social distancing, hand washing, avoiding unnecessary trips and let’s all look out for our vulnerable populations.