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New Mexico opens alternate care facility for COVID-19 patients

ALBUQUERQUE – With New Mexico hospitals facing a capacity crunch because of the coronavirus outbreak, the state on Friday opened an alternate care facility for COVID-19 patients in a renovated former hospital in Albuquerque.

The state Department of Health said the Gibson Medical Center will only serve recovering COVID-19-positive adults who don’t require acute care. The facility won’t have an emergency hospital, intensive care unit or surgical suite, the department said in a statement.

“It is strictly a step down care facility for patients referred from other providers,” department spokeswoman Marisa Maez said in an email.

Initially, the facility will use two floors to provide 25 beds for patients who need nursing care and an additional 25 beds for isolation or quarantine. An additional two floors are available to reach a maximum capacity of 180 beds, the department said.

“This facility will alleviate some of the immense pressure (on) our state health care system, which is rapidly becoming overcrowded and taxed under the shroud of this pandemic,” said Dr. Tracie C. Collins, the department’s secretary-designate.

Daily infections in New Mexico have surged to new highs in recent weeks. Health officials on Thursday reported 3,675 new positive COVID-19 tests – a daily record – with 12 related deaths. The number of hospitalizations also increased to 774 people, with 125 on ventilators.

New Mexico as of Thursday reported a total of 74,116 cases, 5,965 hospitalizations and 1,302 deaths.

The department said it would run the alternate care facility while relying on the University of New Mexico “for additional expertise and oversight.”

Unemployed health care workers recruited to serve as temporary department employees will primarily staff the facility with augmentation by the state Medical Reserve Corps and, if needed, the New Mexico National Guard, the department said.

Officials previously said opening the facility would be difficult because of a shortage of medical staff in New Mexico and surrounding states.

The facility, which previously housed Lovelace Hospital, remained locked and unused for months after the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent $3.6 million to renovate the building.

It is one of dozens set by the Corps across the United States.

The state signed a one-year lease to use the privately owned building for $8.6 million a year.

Like their counterparts in other states, New Mexico hospital officials have described strains from the current pace of caring for increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients. Steps taken to cope include bringing in health care workers from other states, redeploying staff from clinics and setting up inpatient units in areas where they normally wouldn’t be.