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San Juan Regional Medical Center prepared for rise in COVID-19 cases

Farmington hospital concerned about increase in pediatric cases
San Juan Regional Medical Center expanded its intensive care unit to include an additional nine beds from the progressive care unit early on in the pandemic to make room for patients. (Courtesy of San Juan Regional Medical Center)

FARMINGTON – San Juan Regional Medical Center says it is prepared for a wave of new COVID-19 cases but is concerned about the impact of the delta variant on young people.

Dr. Brad Greenberg, an emergency medicine physician and medical director for emergency preparedness at the medical center, said the hospital’s plan allows staff members to meet the demands of the coronavirus.

“Our staff have been working so hard to cope with all of this,” Greenberg said. “We continue to have to adapt and adjust the way that we respond to meet the changing demands of an evolving pandemic.”

Greenberg said the delta variant is the fifth surge or phase of the pandemic. In the winter surge, the hospital had as many as 100 COVID-19 patients at a time. In the past four weeks, he said, the number of in-patients has increased, and as of Wednesday, 39 patients had positive or suspected cases of COVID-19. Twenty-one intensive care beds were occupied.

There is limited ICU capacity in New Mexico, Greenberg said, and hospitals are at 100% capacity.

The hospital adapted to its first surge by increasing the ICU bed count by converting a progressive care unit to intensive care. That raised the bed count from 14 to 23.

“We actually transitioned to provide critical care in that environment really early in the pandemic because of the increased demand,” Greenberg said. “And so now we’re able to flex back and forth a little bit more easily.”

He attributed the quick response to the staff’s “expertise.”

“It's through their hard work that we’re able to care for this larger number of critically ill patients,” Greenberg said.

While each phase of the pandemic brings new challenges, Greenberg said the current surge does not face a rush for personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and face shields.

Instead, Greenberg said the hospital is having trouble staffing.

“I think this time around, I think the pandemic has had a huge impact on the health care workforce, and we are no different,” Greenberg said. “Many people have left the industry, and many people have found that the pandemic and the huge amounts of stress are very challenging, and folks have moved to other facilities, other kinds of work, or left health care altogether. So that has been very challenging.”

“When it comes to the workforce, I think that health care workers have really borne the brunt of the pandemic, and the work that they do everyday is nothing short of incredible,” he said.

Hospital staff members are also concerned about a potential increase in pediatric cases. Because there is a large population of young people who cannot yet take the vaccine, children are more vulnerable to the disease.

“Other areas of the country have demonstrated very large numbers of pediatric cases and surges within pediatric hospitals,” Greenberg said. “So we’re vigilantly working with our pediatricians to provide that high level of care in the event we do see large numbers of pediatric patients.”

He said the best defense against a severe COVID-19 case is a vaccine, as well as masking, hand-washing and social distancing.

For more information, visit https://cv.nmhealth.org/covid-vaccine/.