Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in Otero County, the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center has faced the complexity of treating patients infected with the virus.
The increase in COVID-19 cases in Otero County has led the management of the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center to restrict hospital visits, end inpatient elective surgeries, and close the cafeteria and bistro.
The situation is being assessed week by week, said Jim Heckert, CEO of Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center.
The restrictions adopted in response to the increase in the number of cases in the past two months are similar to those adopted in March 2020 when COVID-19 was first detected in New Mexico.
âOne (n) prime factor is the low vaccination rate in the county,â Heckert said.
As of October 14, 50.3% of Otero County residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Prior to August 2021, Champion Gerald Regional Medical Center averaged five to eight positive cases of COVID-19 per day. That average has doubled since early October, Heckert said.
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âThese are patients who require a longer stay and therefore fill your beds faster and that’s what puts the pressure on us to try to meet that need,â Heckert said.
The emergency room at Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center can sometimes accommodate 100 patients per day. As of Oct. 14, the census from Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center showed the hospital had 65 staffed beds and 70 patients.
To manage additional patients, other areas of the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, such as the Ambulatory Care Unit, are used to park patients until a regular bed is available.
âWe have to use all kinds of different stuff, so to speak, to be able to handle this workload,â Heckert said.
As of October 14, the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center had 19 COVID-19 positive patients, which is more COVID-19 patients than the hospital has ever had, Heckert said.
COVID-19 cases and vaccination
Gerald CThe hampion regional medical center received mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, Heckert said, although some cases of the virus were among those vaccinated, Heckert said.
âIf you take a measurement the majority of admitted patients (for COVID-19) were not vaccinated and were younger,â Heckert said.
Now, cases of the virus are being reported in people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, Gerald Regional Medical Center spokesperson Lillie Lewis said.
âWe are seeing positive (COVID-19) children of all ages, but we haven’t had to admit these (child patients) to the hospital,â Lewis said.
“I still think it’s real and we’re big supporters of vaccination and we know, just in fact, that more of our patients (COVID-19) are not vaccinated,” Heckert said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center has experienced staff shortages, primarily in bedside nursing.
âWe came back to the COVID-19 business this summer, at the end of the summer,â Heckert said. “We actually have more patients than we’ve ever had beforeâ¦ It puts stress on us and it’s not just us, it’s the whole region.”
The main stressor is the shortage of nurses, Heckert said.
Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center had a 10% staff nurse turnover rate before the COVID-19 pandemic. The current turnover rate is 40%, Heckert said.
The Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center has 160 staff nurse positions.
To help close the gap, Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center hired 32 temporary mobile nurses, Heckert said.
However, they are not permanent employees and are only at Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center until full-time nurses can be hired, Heckert said.
âWe would hire them all if we could meet our vacancy rateâ¦ it’s just because of the demand,â Heckert said. “We thought we would have less when COVID-19 first started. It appears to be a new and continuing problem for staff.”
Part of the problem is the burnout of medical staff, including mobile nurses, Heckert said.
Itinerant nurses are either “tired of traveling or tired of dealing with COVID-19.” So they’re either taking a break or they want to do something other than bedside nursing, âHeckert said.
Heckert added that Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center is struggling to transfer patients to Las Cruces or El Paso, where hospitals are also struggling to provide services.
âNot necessarily full of COVID-19 (patients), just busy,â Heckert said.
COVID-19 by the numbers in Otero County
In March 2020 and that summer, COVID-19 cases in Otero County fell from minimal to moderate.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, Otero County has gone from nine positive COVID-19 cases on May 12, 2020 to 238 positive COVID-19 cases on September 12, 2020.
Whereas Otero County had 3,900 positive COVID-19 cases on May 12, 2021 and 5,055 positive COVID-19 cases as of September 12, 2021, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
For that four-month period in 2020, Otero County added 229 positive COVID-19 cases compared to 1,155 positive cases for the same four-month period in 2021.
As of October 14, Otero County had 6,120 positive COVID-19 cases, 97 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 5,075 reported COVID-19 recoveries, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center has scheduled community COVID-19 vaccination and booster clinics for October 18, 25 and November 1 at the Scenic View Surgery Center, 2669 Scenic Drive.
Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center will offer the third dose of Pfizer COVID-19 to those eligible to receive the booster. Appointments can be made at vaccinenm.org or by dialing 1-855-600-3453 and press 1. Seniors and people with disabilities can dial 1-800-432-2080.
Nicole Maxwell can be reached by email at [email protected], by phone at 575-415-6605 or on Twitter at @nicmaxreporter.