The Gibson website stays locked as instances rise. “Albuquerque Journal

The old Lovelace Hospital in Albuquerque is said to be home to COVID-19 patients but remains idle in a surge in cases. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

With hospital congestion and a potential health crisis looming, the multi-million dollar investment by the state of New Mexico in an alternative overflow facility for COVID-19 patients sits locked and unused on Gibson Boulevard in Albuquerque.

On Wednesday, New Mexico’s number of daily COVID-19 cases and hospital stays broke records, and medical leaders warned they may have to treat patients in MASH-style units.

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However, it is still unclear when or if the room that once housed Lovelace Hospital will be used for coronavirus patients.

New Mexico Health Department officials did not respond to a Journal request for an interview, but a spokeswoman sent the Journal a written statement that Gibson Medical Center at 5400 Gibson Blvd. SE remains an option to combat hospital overcrowding, but the state has not provided specific schedules or details.

When the highly contagious virus hit last spring, state health officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered a $ 3.6 million quick renovation of the now-closed hospital. State health officials promised the site would be “operational” by April 27 for non-acute patients recovering from COVID-19.

The state signed a one-year lease to use the privately owned 360,000-square-foot Gibson Medical Center for $ 8.6 million a year. It is one of 38 “alternative foster homes” established by the Army Corps of Engineers across the country.

So far, the state has not had to use the emergency medical facility, but has paid more than $ 7 million to rent the space and buy supplies just in case.

General hospital bed space is scarce nationwide, but opening the 200-bed COVID-19 backup unit will be difficult due to the shortage of medical staff in New Mexico and the surrounding states, according to state health officials.

When the Gibson facility was planned last spring, “the New Mexico National Guard should be manned first, followed by support staff from the University of New Mexico Medical Center to run the facility,” said Jodi McGinnis, spokeswoman for the State Human Resources Porter in an email to the Journal on Tuesday.

Now the state is “currently considering a federal request” for Defense Department military personnel to occupy the Gibson site for the current medical boom, McGinnis Porter wrote. State officials have attributed the staff shortage to burnout and medical professionals suffering from the disease.

The old Lovelace Hospital in Gibson underwent renovations in the spring, and health officials said it would be available in late April for non-acute patients recovering from coronavirus. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

Reach capacity

With COVID-19 cases and hospital stays rocking state records, local hospital officials have announced that New Mexico will exceed its emergency standard this month and exceed crisis capacity in early December given the current trend.

On Wednesday, the state reported that 481 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Dr. David Scrase, a medical advisor to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and secretary to the Cabinet for Human Services, said during a public update last week that hospitals across the state reported that 92% of their general hospital beds were full.

“We expect general hospital beds to run out in days, not weeks,” said Scrase.

Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said in late October that one potential strategy would be to build tents to house patients with units similar to the Army’s mobile surgical hospitals.

When asked by reporters about the Gibson facility, state health officials have stated in the past few weeks that the old Lovelace Hospital could be used to “house” people, such as people who may have tested positive for COVID-19 or of homeless people with the virus nowhere else. Other options mentioned in the past few months would be to use the renovated space for behavioral health needs.

But McGinnis Porter said in her email to the Journal, “Gibson Medical Center remains a viable option to address hospital capacity issues during this current surge in COVID-positive cases.”

The facility was created “to address a potential hospital overflow of COVID-19 patients who were unable to” care for themselves or needed to be isolated in a lowered care facility, “she wrote.

Non-acute COVID-19 patients would be referred from hospitals, freeing up space in the hospital bed for more serious cases.

The Gibson site, which housed the old Lovelace Hospital until it closed in 2007, was selected by the Army Corps of Engineers based on an assessment conducted by the agency. DOH was given operational responsibility for the facility, which received more than $ 337,000 in updates for the placement of COVID patients. The retrofit included the installation of window units to create a negative pressure so that air in patient areas is removed by the filter system.

The Department of Health, in collaboration with the state’s General Services Department, took the lead to structure a lease for the facility, which is east of office space used by several behavioral health companies, as well as the state-owned Turquoise Lodge, a rehabilitation center.

The doors to the COVID-19 facility were locked on Wednesday, and a private security guard patrolling the area told the Journal, “All of my people are wondering when they (the wave) will meet (the new facility).”

McGinnis Porter stated that the Department of Health uses the checkout process to pay bills for leasing the facility using Executive Order and federal funds from the CARES Act.

“The state has requested (federal) reimbursement of the eligible expenses on this lease,” she added.

Homeless shelter

Gibson Medical Center is also recognized by the city of Albuquerque as a 24-hour sanctuary for the homeless. Back in February, the city estimated the space would cost $ 7.4 million to buy. Property manager Nadine Martinez Daskalos told the Journal on Wednesday that the estimate was incorrect and a valuation of the property was $ 18 million.

Lisa Huval, Albuquerque City’s assistant director for housing and homelessness, said earlier this week the city was still conducting an assessment of the Gibson Medical Center’s location while continuing talks with the state about its use as a shelter.

A number of states that have established alternative foster care have not yet accepted COVID patients – some citing staff shortages as the reason.

The state of Alaska, which has established a hospital overflow point at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, has also seen an increase in hospital admissions, but has placed the facility in warm status, requiring a two-day period before activation .

“We theoretically all have these alternate foster homes and they’re ready to go. But the question is: will we have staff? “Said Jaren Kosin, director of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, in a story published by Alaska Public Media. Others have cared for fewer patients than the facility’s capacity.

The Army Corps of Engineers built two more “alternative care” sites in Gallup and Chinle, Arizona, treating COVID-19 patients during an earlier surge in cases in northwest New Mexico.

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