SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — People who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Arizona are being transferred to New Mexico hospitals because of staffing shortages and a lack of bed space, under a federal law that requires hospitals to accept patients from neighboring states if beds are available.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the transfer of out-of-state patients poses challenges as some New Mexico facilities are at or nearing capacity levels, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
New Mexico has fewer hospital beds per capita than many other states, she said.
“That means we have less available for our folks here, which means I have to do even a better job at managing COVID and New Mexicans are going to have to have even more personal responsibility than many other Americans,” she told The Washington Post in an online broadcast interview.
Lujan Grisham also suggested that the state would not reject such patients under the law, even if it could.
The University of New Mexico Hospital and Presbyterian Healthcare Services have accepted Arizona patients for treatment, including 96 patients from the Navajo Nation since March, officials said.
The New Mexico Department of Health has confirmed the transfer of patients. But the department said the number of patients is not large enough to affect New Mexico's ability to provide for its own residents.
“Being able to work with other states to share resources in emergencies is very important, but it’s also important that Arizona learn to better manage the rampant spread of COVID-19 that it’s let occur there,” department spokesman David Morgan said.
It is unclear how many patients have been transferred from Arizona to New Mexico, or if there were out-of-state patients from other states. Out-of-state patients are not added to the state's case count, but they are included in the hospitalization numbers.
The number of occupied ICU beds at seven designated New Mexico hospitals this week was at 256, below the maximum capacity of 614 beds, according to department data.
However, two Presbyterian hospitals are near capacity and have activated their disaster plans, but not because of COVID-19, said Clay Holderman, Presbyterian’s chief operating officer. Those patients have a range of other ailments that have been worsened by a lack of preventive care.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
In other coronavirus developments:
— The Albuquerque Public Schools board has announced a hybrid learning plan for the upcoming school year where students are expected to begin classes online Aug. 12 and then switch to in-person learning Sept. 8. Teachers and staff are expected to return Aug. 5.
The district plans to provide electronic devices for all K-12 students who need them, and it will supply masks, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer. The plan will next head to the state Public Education Department for approval, but it could still change depending on the governor's public health order.