A flood of COVID patients in Lea County is stretching local hospitals to the breaking point.
“The scenario we’re facing is a disaster,” said Dan Springer, CEO of Covenant Health Hobbs Hospital. “We have done everything possible to accommodate patients. We’re just completely overwhelmed.”
As of midday Tuesday, Covenant Hobbs was “beyond capacity,” Springer told the News-Sun, with 19 patients hospitalized due to the novel coronavirus. Some of those have been housed in the emergency room at the hospital because staff had no place else to put them.
And Nor-Lea Hospital in Lovington is in no better shape. At Monday’s Lovington City Council Meeting, David Shaw, CEO, said the hospital was in “black status” in terms of the pandemic.
“The situation is beyond our staffing resources,” Shaw told the News-Sun on Tuesday. “We’re trying to get ourselves organized for a bigger surge that’s coming.”
Exacerbating the problem is the fact southeast New Mexico isn’t alone in experiencing a surge in COVID-19 with the more-virulent Delta variant sweeping the country, Shaw and Springer said. At a drive-thru clinic Monday, Nor-Lea tested about 700 people. Of those, 123 tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Shaw said.
“Every day accumulates the number of people who need to be admitted” to the hospital, he said. “In southeast New Mexico, the numbers continue to climb and patients are very sick. They have very long stays in the hospital.”
Springer said an average of 60 patients per day are going to the emergency room at Covenant Hobbs, with more than 60 percent of the visits related to COVID-19. The bulk of the sick are unvaccinated, they said, but a few are so-called “breakthrough infections,” among individuals who were previously vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
And the patients who do make it to the emergency room at Covenant Hobbs can expect wait times of 10 hours or more to even be examined, Springer said. At Nor-Lea, the most recent patient count had 15 patients admitted with COVID-19 with three more in the emergency room waiting to be transferred. Shaw said Tuesday those three had been waiting more than 24 hours.
And there’s just no place to send them, Shaw said. Nor-Lea staff have tried hospitals across New Mexico and in the surrounding states of Texas, Colorado and Arizona. They’ve even reached out to hospitals as far away as Wyoming to try to find beds for the most seriously ill, all to no avail, Shaw said.
“Every hospital around — they are all full,” Shaw said. “There are no ICU beds. (Patients) are just stacking up in all these rural hospital emergency rooms.
“We have had patients die in our emergency room, not because we couldn’t care for them, but because we couldn’t get them transferred to somewhere to get the care they needed. It’s very gut-wrenching for us, it’s a very helpless feeling for us.”
Both hospitals are temporarily curtailing some services to free up nursing staff to care for the critically ill. Both have put a moratorium on elective surgery, with Nor-Lea converting its operating and recovery area to house non-COVID patients, Shaw said.
Nor-Lea is also changing how COVID patients are tested and treated, doing away with its daily drive-in testing clinics as of 2 p.m. today (Wednesday) and moving everything to the gymnasium at the Lovington Wellness Center beginning Thursday.
“The Wellness Center has a huge gym floor and we’re going to create a COVID center there,” Shaw said. “Anybody in the community who thinks they may have COVID can be seen there, tested there, can even have infusion (treatments) there.”
Using the Wellness Center gymnasium should free up space at the hospital and make it easier to keep COVID patients separated from patients with other complaints.
“All those regular patients on a regular day, they’re still coming in and they still need to be cared for,” Shaw said. “In a sense, they’re piling up on one another. I only have so many staff. I have to allocate resources where they’re needed.”
COVID testing sites:
• Public Health Office, 1923 N. Dal Paso St., Suite B, Hobbs. Testing available by appointment 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Go toto register.
• Presbyterian Medical Services, 200 W. Lea St., Hobbs. Drive-thru testing, call 575-391-0270 for appointment.
• Nor-Lea Hospital, 1600 N. Main, Lovington. Drive-thru testing through 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug.
• Nor-Lea Wellness Center, 1625 N. Main St., Lovington. Beginning Thursday, Aug. 26; symptomatic individuals only.
• Covenant Health Hobbs Hospital, Hobbs. An order for testing is needed from a personal physician, then call the hospital at 575-492-5000 to make an appointment.
• Walgreens. Register online at.
• CVS. Register online at.
• Check with your local doctor’s office.