New Mexico is Seventh State Using Military to Treat COVID Patients Amid Staff Shortages

A 20-member medical team from the U.S. Navy is set to arrive Sunday to assist the San Juan Regional Medical Center with treating COVID patients amid ongoing staff shortages, the Associated Press reported.

The team, requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, makes New Mexico the seventh state to have military teams deployed or set to be deployed to assist with treatment of COVID patients. Two other 20-member teams are being sent to hospitals in Michigan, according to a U.S. Army statement issued Monday.

"As COVID-19 hospitalization rates continue to shift across the country, decreasing in certain areas while increasing in others, we unfortunately find new communities and healthcare facilities overburdened and in need of federal, military assistance," said Lieutenant General John R. Evans Jr., ARNORTH commander.

"The Department of Defense was again called upon by FEMA to support New Mexico and the state of Michigan as they, along with the military and the entire nation, continue to fight this pandemic."

As of Monday, 572 New Mexico residents were hospitalized with COVID, and last week, health care officials testified to a legislative committee that over 450 hospital beds across the state are unable to be used due to inadequate staffing, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Dr. Nicole Wieman, a spokeswoman for Army North, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that military teams were sent to health care facilities in multiple cities in New Mexico earlier this year, with one team beginning work in December of 2020.

"Since the beginning of the COVID-19 response, we've just seen the stresses that have been placed upon civilian hospitals, the health care workers in those hospitals and on the communities as well," Wieman said.

"The hospitals, as we've seen since the beginning of the response, are just kind of at their capacity to be able to treat patients and so that's when our teams step in to work alongside those civilian health care workers."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

New Mexico, COVID, Staff Shortages, Navy
The U.S. Navy is sending a 20-person team to assist a New Mexico hospital in treating COVID patients amid a rise in cases, hospitalizations and staff shortages. Above, first lady Jill Biden visits a vaccination center at First Choice Community Healthcare-South Valley Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on April 21, 2021. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The teams focus on coronavirus cases, Wieman said. "They are there to decompress the burden of treating COVID patients," she said.

New Mexico on Monday reported an additional 4,991 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 45 more virus deaths for a five-day period that included the Thanksgiving holiday. That increased the state's pandemic total to 313,139 cases and 5,355 deaths.

Health officials said the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive remains just over 12 percent, above the state's target but less than it was two weeks ago.

Officials with two of New Mexico's largest hospitals said during a briefing Monday that they continue to operate above capacity. At Presbyterian Healthcare Services, about 28 percent of patients are being treated for coronavirus infections.

Hundreds of traveling nurses are working at both Presbyterian and University of New Mexico Hospital to help meet demands, the officials said.

State officials and health care experts have acknowledged that the pandemic has exacerbated a long-term problem in New Mexico, where hospital capacity has historically been stretched thin due to its low number of beds per capita.