ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — With New Mexico hospitals facing a capacity crunch because of the coronavirus outbreak, the state on Friday opened an alternate care facility for COVID-19 patients in a renovated former hospital in Albuquerque.
The state Department of Health said the Gibson Medical Center will only serve recovering COVID-19-positive adults who don't require acute care. The facility won't have an emergency hospital, intensive care unit or surgical suite, the department said in a statement.
“It is strictly a step-down care facility for patients referred from other providers," department spokeswoman Marisa Maez said in an email.
Initially, the facility will use two floors to provide 25 beds for patients needing nursing care and an additional 25 beds for isolation or quarantine. An additional two floors are available to reach a maximum capacity of 180 beds, the department said.
“This facility will alleviate some of the immense pressure our state health care system which is rapidly becoming overcrowded and taxed under the shroud of this pandemic,” said Tracie Collins, the department's secretary-designate.
Daily infections in New Mexico have surged to new highs in recent weeks. Health officials on Friday reported 2,993 new positive COVID-19 tests and 23 related deaths.
More than 1,000 people tested positive in Bernalillo county that encompasses Albuquerque. There were 218 infections within one zip code area in the Albuquerque area.
Nearly 3,000 people have died statewide from the virus since the outset of the pandemic.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
The department said it would run the alternate care facility while relying on the University of New Mexico “for additional expertise and oversight."
Unemployed health care workers recruited to serve as temporary department employees will primarily staff the facility with augmentation by the state Medical Reserve Corps and, if needed, the New Mexico National Guard, the department said.
Officials previously said opening the facility would be be difficult because of a shortage of medical staff in New Mexico and surrounding states.
The facility, which previously housed Lovelace Hospital, remained locked and unused for months after the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent $3.6 million to renovate the building.
It is one of dozens set by the Corps across the United States.
The state signed a one-year lease to use the privately owned building for $8.6 million a year.
Like their counterparts in other states, New Mexico hospital officials have described strains from the current pace of caring for increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients. Steps taken to cope include bringing in health care workers from other states, redeploying staff from clinics and setting up inpatient units in areas where they normally wouldn’t be located.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.