• Weekend vaccination clinics planned for Tasker Arena in Hobbs
Lea County hospitals are facing a potential shortage of hospital beds to treat seriously ill patients diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
Dan Springer, CEO of Covenant Health Hobbs Hospital, and David Shaw, CEO of Nor-Lea Hospital District in Lovington, addressed the community via live social media press conference Tuesday, urging people to get vaccinated as the best measure to combat the growing number of cases of COVID-19. Springer said local hospitals are “close to the point of being overwhelmed.”
Right now, DNA testing has shown the Delta Variant is the prominent type of novel coronavirus in New Mexico, Shaw said. The New Mexico Department of Health takes a statistical sample of all the tests for DNA testing. Of those DNA tests, 98 percent were positive for the Delta Variant from all parts of the state.
That, Shaw and Springer said, is why vaccination is so important. Nor-Lea and Covenant Hobbs will host a two-day, evening vaccine clinic from 5-10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, at Ralph Tasker Arena on the Hobbs High School campus. The clinic will accept both appointments and walk-ins seeking the vaccine.
Hosting the clinics in the evening and on the weekend will give people who haven’t been able to receive the vaccine at the numerous weekday clinics due to work or other obligations their turn, Shaw said.
“We’re just trying to improve access for everybody,” he said. “Some people work during the week, some people are unable to do things except on the weekend. Plus, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has a team that’s going to assist with the clinic and they’re available this weekend.”
Also Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a temporary reimplementation of the state’s masking mandate, requiring facemasks to be worn in all public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status. Her office also issued a requirement that all workers at public, private and charter schools in the state must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to COVID-19 testing on a weekly basis. All state government personnel were already required to be vaccinated or tested weekly.
The mask mandate will go into effect Friday and is expected to last at least through Sept. 15, Lujan Grisham said during an on-line COVID update Tuesday. It applies to all New Mexicans 2-years-old and older, she said.
“Masks are still one of the most effective and prudent ways to limit or prevent transmission of COVID-19,” she said. “I know many of you have been voluntarily wearing masks indoors. Now we’re going to require it for everyone.”
The state will also mandate vaccines or weekly COVID testing for hospital personnel and people working in “congregate settings,” including nursing homes, assisted living centers, adult day care and correctional facilities. The mandate goes into effect Monday, with unvaccinated workers required to get their first shots within 10 days and the second shot, if applicable, within 40 days of the first injections, she said. Again, the requirement mirrors the policy applied to state government employees.
In addition, Lujan Grisham announced that proof of full vaccination will be required from anyone attending the New Mexico State Fair, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 9.
“We all have a role to play,” said Lujan Grisham in a release announcing the requirements. “No one wants to go backward. No one wants to see our recovery endangered by another – and preventable – surge of serious illness.”
The vaccine clinic this weekend comes at a time when hospital beds locally, regionally and around the country are filling up, Shaw and Springer said.
“Capacity (to accommodate COVID patients) changes constantly,” Springer told the News-Sun. “It always depends. If we have four patients with COVID show up in our ER and we have four discharges of non-COVID patients out of (the medical and surgical department) today, we would fill those beds with COVID patients and they would become COVID beds.”
So far, Covenant Hobbs has been able to accommodate most of the COVID patients who have come through their doors, he said. Only a handful have been transferred to Covenant facilities in Lubbock.
Nor-Lea last week announced at least one patient had to be transferred to a hospital in Denver, Colorado, for treatment, Shaw said. But, as the Delta Variant — which has the potential to cause more severe illness in younger people, including children — spreads throughout New Mexico, the time when Lea County hospitals have to start sending more patients elsewhere for treatment could be fast approaching, Shaw and Springer said.
“We’re seeing younger people,” Shaw said. “We have several in the hospital (as of Tuesday) from 40 years old to 20 years old.”
But finding beds for those patients is becoming more difficult as hospitals further and further away are filling up with patients from their own locations, they said.
“That’s what I mean when I say we’re at the brink of being overloaded,” Springer said. “Currently it’s very difficult to transfer (patients) right now. We’re trying to accommodate them as best we can, but (additional patients) could mean a hold in the emergency room or having to transfer them far from home, which we don’t want to have to do.”
As of Tuesday, Nor-Lea had 10 patients being treated for complications of COVID-19, Shaw said. While he didn’t know the exact number of patients being treated Tuesday, Springer said Covenant Hobbs had regular capacity for about a dozen COVID patients, which could be expanded to as many as 16 beds “if we didn’t have people checking in with normal things people get sick with.”
Virtually any hospital room realistically can be used to treat a person with a severe case of COVID-19. The biggest limiting factor is having nursing staff available on top of the additional work that has to be done to keep COVID patients isolated to decrease the chance other hospital patients will be infected.
“We try to cordon off a certain number of beds (for COVID patients) so we limit access in the hallways near those rooms so we don’t have non-infected people being cross contaminated,” Shaw said. “And nurses are dedicated to COVID beds — a typical nurse can handle four to five COVID patients, depending on how ill they are, but I’ve had cases where it’s one-to-one care because the patient is so sick and needs so much attention.”
Both Lea County hospitals have also adjusted visitation policies to help stem infection rates. Nor-Lea will not allow visitors on any floor where COVID patients are and will limit visitation in the emergency room due to the potential number of positive COVID patients there, Shaw said. Covenant Hobbs last week announced it was closing its main entrance, limit access to the emergency room, Springer said.
And the problem is exacerbated by an ongoing shortage of trained nurses across the country, Shaw said.
“You can only staff up to the point you have nurses to care for patients,” he said. “There may be an empty bed but not any nurses to take care of that patients. The nursing shortage is a challenge for all of us.”
Springer agreed: “We are also reevaluating our staffing model, adjusting to be able to take care of as many patients as we can. And we’re evaluating each elective surgery so we don’t take beds unnecessarily.
“It’s pretty much a one-for-one exchange right now,” Springer said. “When we have someone who needs to be admitted, we find a room, then shuffle patients and get them in somehow, some where.”