As the pandemic continues into a new year, hospitals and health care providers are continuing care for COVID-19 patients and strategizing how to administer as many vaccines as possible.
Nico Tejeda, group CEO of The Hospitals of Providence, talked to El Paso Inc. last week to provide the El Paso community an update on the situation inside the hospital network’s walls.
Here’s what Tejeda said about what hospitals are doing to move forward and stay prepared as 2021 unfolds.
Q: Where are we right now in terms of efforts to take care of the region’s COVID-19 patients?
We’re fortunate that El Paso has reached a point of stability. We made it through the holidays with cases not surging. Other parts of the country are going through a very tough time right now, and our hearts go out to them.
We were fortunate that our surge occurred before the rest of the country. As hard as it was here, we had resources to dedicate to El Paso. Some of those resources are still here. Even though the pain of the surge has dissipated, there are still a lot of COVID patients in our hospitals.
In our network today, we have over 160 COVID positive patients we’re taking care of.
Our staff have benefited greatly from having the state nurses here. But we know that in time those state nurses will be allocated to communities being harder hit than we are. But fortunately they provided a respite for our staff from taking care of all those patients.
Staff has been our focal point. Do they have the resources they need, can they get the breaks they need, so that moving forward we have the energy to tackle another surge, if it happens.
Q: What are your priorities as we start the new year?
In our 2021 list of priorities, of course the top of the list is managing the pandemic. But followed by that we have priorities to expand key services we provide, among them cardiology, orthopedics, oncology.
We have to get people to feel comfortable coming to the emergency room when they need it.
We know that once schools get back into in-person session, our pediatric ER will need to treat accidents that happen. These are the things we’re thinking about right now.
Q: Are you struggling with getting people to come into the ER for emergencies?
Nationally, and locally, we’ve seen that patients have been reticent to come into the emergency room, either because they fear acquiring COVID-19 or because they aren’t being as active, therefore they’re not having the number of incidents requiring an ER visit.
But you do see a lot of really intelligent, well-informed people in the community that still have a fear of coming into a hospital because of COVID-19. I understand it. They believe that, if you look at the risk of their condition, it’s a greater risk in coming to the hospital and getting COVID-19.
That pain you feel in your chest, or in your head, it means something. Your body is telling you something and you need to listen to that.
Q: How’s the vaccine rollout at The Hospitals of Providence and in the community?
I think El Paso is doing very well. There will always be tension and frustration because there’s not enough supply of vaccines to meet the demand that exists, and there won’t be for some time.
But if you look at the primary sources of frustration in El Paso, it’s about how quickly some people are getting through the line, and whether the right people are getting it.
While those are challenges, they are much better challenges than what some other communities have, where they haven’t given any phase.
We’re much more advanced, and the numbers prove it out, than other cities our size. That’s a credit to the city and health care providers that are actively trying to do this.
There are two mass vaccination sites approved. We’ve sought approval to be a mass vaccination site, and I believe others will, too.
The city and UMC are already done with those (10,000 vaccinations), and that speaks well to this city, and our ability moving forward to get additional supply from state and federal resources.
The ability for a community to receive an additional supply is predicated on their ability to administer quickly.
We all have loved ones that need the vaccine. The phases are only because we have to acknowledge that we have limited supply. Everyone who’s 16 and above needs the vaccine, and we need to make sure we get everyone vaccinated. We all have a plan developing to make sure we get those vaccines to everyone who needs them.
It wasn’t even a month ago that we received notice of how many vaccines El Paso was going to be given. Within that last month, over 11,000 vaccine administrations have occurred, with to my knowledge no wasted vaccines.
Another factor in the timeline for vaccines is supply. And we know that’s about to be expanded now that the federal government announced it was going to start the supply for the second dose that had been held.
They’re going to release that throughout the country so they can provide more people with the first dose. Logically that will double the amount of supply out there.
Regardless of what happens with vaccine administration, some things are going to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Hospitals are always going to have hand washing. Wearing masks for everyone coming to the hospital will still be the same. Testing protocols for everyone who comes to the hospital who needs it will still be in place.
Q: Are elective surgeries back on?
Each region is driven by the governor’s guidance. El Paso falls into a region where we can proceed with surgeries as long as it doesn’t impair our ability to take care of COVID patients.
We have elective surgeries ongoing at all our hospitals and surgery centers. It’s very important that we were able to get back to doing that. The stories we all know of someone needing that surgery are quite impactful.
The obvious ones are the ones where people need surgeries for cancer. But, a grandfather who can’t walk to carry his grandson, is from a quality of life perspective absolutely essential.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422.