By Mary Alice Murphy

The Gila Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees met in regular session on Friday, March 27, 2020 using a social distancing tool—a virtual meeting on WebEx. Board members could speak in turn, while at least 10 members of the public listened, but were muted and unable to give public comment.

The board had a modified agenda, with the main topic a discussion and update of preparations for COVID-19.

Board Chairman Tony Trujillo said concern about the virus potentially arriving in Grant County "is keeping everyone in the hospital busy. It is the focus of this meeting. I want to publicly state that we are in unprecedented times right now. A big thank you to our staff for keeping the community informed and safe. It is incredible to see the work the staff is doing. I was on a call with the governor, with (Chief Executive Officer) Richard Stokes and Congresswoman (Xochitl) Torres-Small and about 20 others. All of the hospitals in the state are saying they have the same problems—lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) and testing kits. All of us are facing financial losses of 30 percent to 40 percent, so Gila Regional is not unique. Facilitator Jeff Dye, head of the New Mexico Hospital Association, said over one month, New Mexico hospitals have faced over $200 million in losses."

Stokes said because the pandemic is a clinical issue, Chief Quality Officer Tanya Carroccio and Chief Nursing Officer Kelly Rodriguez have taken the lead in addressing it.

"So much has happened in 4½ weeks," Carroccio said. "It was early to mid-February that we were hearing the first repots. We already had infectious disease experts Dr. Tsering Sherpa and William Hemmer discussing the issues. They got with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Then on Feb. 29, Washington state had its first death. By early the next morning Hemmer and the Quality department were working on an exposure plan. We already had some supplies on hand, but we started ordering more PPE. The CDC was sending us daily updates and their different guidelines. We were in constant communication, and we had to get the information out. I took the role as the PR person for getting information out. We developed a task force, and we are meeting daily since March 12. We initiate things to talk about in our daily huddle. With a number of various cases coming into the Emergency Department, we had to determine how many COVID tests and how much PPE we needed. We were also looking at the blood supplies, because blood drives were cancelled. We have a shortage of blood products for hemorrhaging new mothers, people with GI bleeds and trauma cases. We've been having conference calls with the New Mexico Department of Health, the NMHA, and the county, and more meetings with Hidalgo Medical Services and Silver Health Care. We have updated the website with press releases, and we held a press conference. We want people to know that we are ready and ahead of some other hospitals we've heard of. We looked at drive-through testing but put it on the back burner. We got innovative and decided it would be best to have screening clinics, where those with symptoms could go to a specific clinic to get tested, so as not to share symptoms with other people in the waiting room. We are working on email for questions internally and are working with Silver City Radio to have updates every Wednesday at 2 p.m. That may expand to more days as needed. We will answer questions we receive. We are making internal policy changes. We already addressed changes at the cafeteria, and we've made changes to public access to the hospital. Only two entrances are open, the cancer center/surgery center entrance and the ER entrances. Both are manned and those entering will be screened. We are giving masks to those entering. The Billy Casper gym and pool are closed. We have sick call guidance for staff, so as not to bring in sickness. We are also doing significant PPE education on how to put on and take off the PPE and how to reuse it. We are letting the hospital staff know what the task force is doing. We get new policies almost every day. We have the auxiliary making masks, because we want to make sure to have masks for all the staff, so they are safe inside the hospital. We are using the motto: 'We can't shelter in place, so we can shelter our face.' We are reporting our uses of PPE. As of yesterday, we have cancelled all elective procedure cases. We will be following the American College of Surgeons guidelines on surgery. We are not only following the mandates, but we are making sure we're doing what we can. Kelly has been looking at the surge plan."

The next article will continue the discussion and will have a link back to this one for continuity and context.

[Editor's Note: Writing as fast as I can, while taking care of getting news releases posted. Thank all you readers for your patience, as I try to catch up and keep up. Stay well and stay home when you can.]