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San Juan Regional Medical Center implements crisis care standards due to Covid, hosts virtual town hall (part 2)

Screenshot from virtual town hall.
Dr. Laura Parajon, Deputy Cabinet Secretary of Health at New Mexico Department of Health participated in San Juan Regional Medical Center's Town Hall on the current Covid surge.

San Juan County, New Mexico has one of the highest positivity rates of Covid-19 in the state. Hospital officials and community leaders are sounding the alarm and urging residents to take Covid-19 precautions seriously, to stop the surge of the virus. KSUT's Sarah Flower reports on a virtual town hall in Part 2 of our story on crisis care services.

Story Transcription:

Sarah Flower
San Juan Regional Medical Center hosted a virtual town hall to discuss the severity of cases they're seeing and their ability to treat patients. The hospital implemented crisis care standards just last week, and officials say they're now receiving help in the form of nurses, paramedics, doctors, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and nursing assistants from the New Mexico Department of Health, and federal assistance from the National Medical Disaster System. Jeff Bourgeois is the CEO of San Juan Regional Medical Center. He says this assistance, while welcome, is a short term fix for a long term problem.

Jeff Bourgeois, President and CEO of San Juan Regional Medical Center 
There are two groups of resources that came, the one from the state, that is a 30 day deployment, and they began filtering into our hospital various days last week. And the federal resources from HHS, that's a 14 day engagement that I believe began officially last Thursday.

San Juan County has an almost 20% positivity rate as of November 8, making it one of the highest in the state. The county is also reporting that 55% of their residents are fully vaccinated. Emergency Room management physician and COVID incident commander at the hospital, Dr. Brad Greenberg explains the differences in severity of illnesses between those that have been inoculated and those that have not.

Dr. Brad Greenberg
In our hospital right now, 81% of those hospitalizations are folks that are not vaccinated. In our ICU, 91% of those folks are not vaccinated. Folks that have to be on a ventilator, 91% are not vaccinated. All the folks that have died in the last month from COVID-19, 94% have been unvaccinated. Our crisis right now is a crisis of the unvaccinated.

The surge of cases isn't just hitting the hospital hard, but now law enforcement is seeing how this wave of the pandemic is different than before. Steve Hebbe is the Chief of Police for the City of Farmington. He says he's worried about what the effects of COVID will have on the overall safety that his team can provide.

Steve Hebbe, Chief of Police, Farmington, NM
So to me as as a director, I'm concerned for my employees. I certainly do not want us to have a Farmington police officer die as a result of a COVID exposure. We need our police officers out on the street so they are continuing to do the job, and they've done it for the last year and a half. But what I would tell you is it is a concern for me to hear what the hospital is going through. But it is also a concern for me what this could ultimately mean for our police department if we're not able to field the adequate numbers to keep our city safe.

The hospital implementing crisis care services and experiencing staffing shortages is not unique to San Juan Regional. Exhaustion amongst healthcare workers is at an all time high. At the town hall, Chief Nursing Officer Suzanne Smith, and Bourgeois discuss staff burnout and what their team is doing to support their caregivers.

Suzanne Smith, Chief Nursing Officer, San Juan Regional 
We've also set up a support group that is being led by a licensed independent social worker, so really to help provide opportunity for individuals to share their feelings, to get together and communicate and unburden.

That's a great point. Thank you for sharing that, Suzanne. I think we all need to realize that our caregivers have seen much more severe illness and much more death, much more frequently than they ever have before in their careers. Not only is the physical burden of caring for these COVID patients heavy, but the emotional strain, often having to serve as an interface between the patient and families for final goodbyes. You can only imagine the continued impact it has on the frontline caregiver.

The science of why this surge is happening in states with high vaccination rates is still being studied. But Dr. Laura Parajon, Deputy Cabinet Secretary of Health at New Mexico Department of Health says multiple reasons could be causing this sudden increase.

Dr. Laura Parajon, Deputy Cabinet Secretary of Health at New Mexico Department of Health
It's not just one single thing that's still causing the surge. With Delta and waning immunity, we are seeing more people who are vaccinated get COVID. Obviously the vaccine isn't going to prevent all COVID cases, but it's going to prevent hospitalization and deaths.

New Mexico state health officials are extending their indoor mask mandate beyond the November 17 deadline.

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