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N.M. Hospitals Work Creatively To Avoid Crisis Standards Of Care

Megan Kamerick
Gibson Medical Center non-acute COVID-19 entrance

As COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high in New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order Friday that enables hospitals to plan for a “crisis standard of care,” when they’ll need to ration care because they lack the resources to meet demand. Albuquerque hospitals are working to stave off the crisis.

UNM Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Irene Agostini at a press conference Monday said that rationing care is a difficult decision no one wants to make. “You know, if you’re on the battlefield, that’s one thing,” she said. “But in a hospital, we never want to do that to our people in New Mexico.”

Officials from New Mexico’s three largest hospital systems said at the press conference that they’re working under “contingency care” standards to maintain their limited capacity by approaching staffing and space creatively.

The Gibson Medical Center, Albuquerque’s old Lovelace hospital, is one such space. New Mexico Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins announced the opening in a video last month. “We’ll be able to house patients who are not quite ready to go home, but they don’t need acute services in a hospital,” Collins said.

The state and Army Corps of Engineers spent $3.6 million renovating Gibson in the spring, according to the Albuquerque Journal, but only recently opened its doors on Nov. 20 with 31 available beds. 

Agostini said UNMH and other hospitals don’t have sufficient staff to care for critically ill patients well at field hospitals like Gibson. “The level of care that it takes to take care of any patient in the hospital is very high,” the doctor told reporters. “Once we move to another facility or a tent, it is very difficult to provide that level of care.”

Hospital officials say to avert “crisis care” standards, they’ve also brought in traveling nurses and reassigned staff. Hospital officials are also calling on New Mexicans to do their part by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Update (12/8, 4:30 p.m.): Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced Tuesday, Dec. 8, that the city is negotiating the purchase of the Gibson Medical Center as the site for its Gateway Center Network of Services for those experiencing homelessness. The city says if the purchase goes through, the state will still be able to use Gibson as a COVID-19 hospital overflow site.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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