PRMC head: Peak likely in early May


Last updated 4/14/2020 at 5:27pm

CLOVIS — In a Monday report to Curry County commissioners, the administrator of Plains Regional Medical Center commended his staff for its preparation and work in the “unprecedented times” brought to eastern New Mexico by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drew Dostal spoke with commissioners for around 25 minutes in Monday’s special telephonic meeting, and noted he expected the curve to reach its peak a few weeks later than originally anticipated — which he said, “speaks to the effect of social distancing.”

Dostal joined PRMC in late October, and just a few months in saw the writing on the wall with novel coronavirus like many others in the industry.

“We’ve been drilling this since before COVID-19 hit our shores,” Dostal said. “We saw this coming. We’ve been in a heightened sense of awareness for probably two months waiting for this to happen.”

Curry County, Dostal said, has had about 300 tests collected between PRMC, the New Mexico Department of Health and other smaller clinics. So far there are 10 lab-confirmed cases, with not all of them diagnosed at PRMC. He did concede the area and the state have been conservative on testing because of limits in testing capability.

The estimated impact of the virus will last a few weeks longer than anticipated, but Dostal said that is the far more preferable option to a short period that overwhelms medical facilities.

“We were thinking all along it would be around the 20th or 21st of April,” Dostal said. “We could see our peak in (early May) of infectivity and new cases.”

Dostal said a cabana located behind the hospital is specifically for screening potential COVID-19 patients.

“People see things like that and they wonder; sometimes our minds go to dark places,” Dostal said. “The reason we do that is so we’re not intermingling them with people who are there for other ailments. The process is to move them around the building and bring them to buildings where they have negative pressure airflow (air from the room gets pushed outside of the hospital instead of back into the HVAC system).”

The hospital has a two-week supply of personal protection equipment, and Dostal said many other colleagues across the nation have just a few days. The facility has some P100 masks, which are a higher grade than the surgical P95 masks.

In summary, Dostal said continuing social distancing measures has helped slow the spread and will continue to be necessary over the next few weeks.

“Nobody wants to do this anymore,” Dostal said. “I certainly don’t want to do this anymore. We can’t control our environment. We can only control our response.”

In other highlights from the discussion:

• The facility is licensed for 100 beds, and Dostal estimated another 40 beds could be added through a waiver that permits beds in non-clinical spaces. The waiver exists for emergency situations, and Dostal said most hospitals around the country are currently operating under one.

• The hospital has seven ventilators on hand, and could have up to 20 if it uses other pieces of equipment that provide similar functionality in a pinch. The Presbyterian system has ordered 200 ventilators it expects to have in the beginning of May, but Dostal wasn’t sure what PRMC’s share would be. The ventilator number can rise or fall depending on needs of area hospitals.

• Dostal said like ventilators, non-coronavirus patient numbers could take large dips or increases as facilities work together in a spoke-hub model. “We’re truly a spoke,” Dostal said, “but we’re far away from our hub (Roswell) enough that we’re a mini-hub.”

• Commissioner Chet Spear asked how COVID-19 cases compared to seasonal flu. Dostal said he didn’t have the numbers at his fingertips, but he ballparked 450 flu cases through its ER and various clinics. In response to another Spear question, Dostal said there are no local influenza deaths among the 18 statewide.

• The hospital has been asked to orient nursing program students, but the Presbyterian system has shown some reticence if there’s a threat of community spread. “It will go rampant if that happens,” Dostal said, “as we’ve seen in Albuquerque and Lubbock and other places.”

• Long-term care facility admission requires two negative COVID-19 tests within a 24-hour period, regardless of the reason for admission. He noted the quick spread of the virus in some Albuquerque facilities.


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