Overfull hospitals a ‘grave situation,’ state health officials warn

By: - December 8, 2021 6:07 pm

Tired health care worker in an ICU, wearing protective coveralls after surgery during the pandemic. (Getty Images)

More than 150 people were waiting for a bed at two major Albuquerque hospitals Tuesday, Dec. 7, a number that the state’s top health official says demonstrates the “really grave situation” facing patients in the state. 

Dr. David Scrase, acting secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon that the lack of capacity stems primarily from those hospitalized with COVID-19. He urged New Mexicans to get vaccinated against the virus and, in the meantime, warned patients not to call 911 except in true emergencies. 

“For example, if you have crushing chest pain and you’ve taken your aspirin and … it’s going down your arm, it’s going into your jaw, you’re probably having a heart attack, and you need an ambulance and you need to call 911,” he said. “But, you know, if your hand hurts… or your knee is a little red, or your one or both of your legs are swollen a little bit, please, please don’t call an ambulance.”

UNMH and Pres adopt crisis standards again to prepare for a flood of patients

On Tuesday, there were just 13 intensive care unit beds available in the entire state, Scrase said, and just 57 medical-surgical beds.

As of Wednesday, there were 667 people hospitalized in the state with COVID infections, he said, the highest since the first week of January, according to state data. The elevated volume is not just COVID patients — it’s also somewhat those with other illnesses who might have delayed their care during previous waves of the pandemic. 

Dr. Michael Richards, vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of New Mexico Hospital, told reporters at the virtual news conference that UNMH is not accepting transfers of patients it would otherwise treat because of the patient influx. Physicians are focused primarily on treating those who have suffered major trauma, heart attacks or strokes.

“​​This morning, our capacity was at 156% of our normal, licensed operating capacity for the adult beds, and we were at 126% of our normal ICU capacity,” he said. “So, I mean, this is an extraordinary number of patients.”

Richards said he understands why patients and family members might be frustrated at delays for treatment or lack of beds. But he asked that they not take that frustration out on health care workers who are incredibly busy treating patients at an overfull hospital. 

“Probably the single most important thing that we can do at this point to ensure that we bring this demand down,” he said, “is ensuring that we get as many people vaccinated and get the boosters out there so that we’re having less hospital admissions.”

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard.