The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Q&A: Local COVID patients 'younger and sicker'


Last updated 9/11/2021 at 3:46pm

Data suggests New Mexico may be nearing the peak of this latest COVID-19 surge and hospitalizations statewide are likely to go down in the next few weeks, according to Plains Regional Medical Center Administrator Jorge Cruz.

But Cruz also said last week he doesn't anticipate that trend will apply to Clovis-Portales.

“(W)ith the lower vaccination rate in our region, we may continue to see higher numbers of COVID patients in the hospital,” he wrote in an email as part of a continuing series of questions and answers with The News.

New Mexico Department of Health reports 59 percent of the state's residents have completed the vaccination series. About 45 percent of Curry County residents have been fully vaccinated; about 36 percent have been fully vaccinated in Roosevelt County.

The Centers for Disease Control reported Friday that unvaccinated people were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized than those fully vaccinated.

PRMC has been reporting 20 or more patients hospitalized daily with the virus over the past several weeks. About a third of those hospitalized were in intensive care near the end of last week.

Two of those hospitalized died from complications related to the virus last week, PRMC officials reported.

Q: What determines when a COVID patient goes into intensive care?

Cruz: Patients go into intensive care when their condition is life-threatening and they need a team of specialists. COVID-19 patients often have difficulty breathing. When they are unable to breathe on their own and require a ventilator or other respiratory supports, they typically also need ICU care.

Q: How many ICU beds are available at PRMC? Can you create more ICU beds?

Cruz: We have seven ICU beds and have a contingency plan to expand, provided that we have the resources needed to do so.

Q: How is this latest COVID surge comparing with last winter? About the same? Are patients sicker? Younger?

Cruz: Our patients have been younger and sicker than during our winter surge. Our teams have been working at an incredible intensity to care for everyone. We continue to encourage everyone in our community to get vaccinated - this is our best tool to help end this pandemic.

Q: PRMC has been averaging 20-25 COVID patients per day for the past few weeks. For perspective, how many patients are hospitalized daily, on average, with something other than COVID?

Cruz: We generally average 10-15 patients daily. That includes non-COVID general medical, surgical, and pediatric patients.

Q: It seems an overwhelming majority of COVID-related deaths involve patients with underlying conditions. Is that also true for those hospitalized with COVID? Do they have underlying conditions?

Cruz: Yes, most of our hospitalized patients have some type of underlying condition. According to a national study of 4.8 million hospitalized patients, 94% had at least one underlying condition. The most common conditions among those were heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Q: When a patient is hospitalized with COVID, what is the average stay? A few days? A week? A month?

Cruz: It really depends on the severity of their condition, but on average 1-2 weeks of hospitalization.

Q: Talk about your staffing situation. Do you have a lot of openings for nurses, physician's assistants, etc.?

Cruz: Staffing has been tight at times. That being said, we have an amazing team that has stepped up during these challenging times. We are operating with an all-hands-on-deck-type mentality. We do have several positions open, but have also been able to fill others recently, with new staff starting in the next few weeks.

Q: Is PRMC accepting COVID patients from other hospitals? Are other hospitals accepting COVID patients from PRMC?

Cruz: New Mexico has a statewide transfer center with a hub and spoke model. This means that smaller hospitals would typically transfer patients, if needed, to a larger facility in the region. We have transferred some patients to Albuquerque-area hospitals. Given our high volume of patients, we have not been able to accept additional transfers.


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