KSUT’s Sarah Flower talks with hospital executives from San Juan Regional Medical Center on how they’re handling this latest surge. 

Four Corners Public Radio | By Sarah Flower
Published October 15, 2021 at 9:04 AM MDT

The county’s number of positive COVID-19 cases are the highest since the pandemic started.

We spoke with Dr. Brad Greenberg, an emergency room physician with the hospital, as well as one of the incident commanders for COVID-19, and Jeff Bourgeois, the President and CEO of the hospital.

Interview Transcript:

Sarah Flower  00:00
I think what I’d like to focus on primarily is that the positivity rate in San Juan County, the death rate, and if my math is mathing, right, we’re looking at without Thursday’s numbers in, roughly 850 positive cases in the last week, and as far as I can tell, that is the highest number since this pandemic started for San Juan County. Dr. Greenberg, I’d like to start with you and hear how you’re faring right now and the hospital capacity today.

Dr. Brad Greenberg, Emergency Room Technician  00:57
I think that what we’re seeing actually at the hospital is indeed an increase in cases that are seen both in the emergency department as well as admitted to the hospital. So we are seeing a market increase. You know, since the beginning of the pandemic, San Juan County has seen 19,777 cases of COVID. And we’ve actually had over I think it’s 2371 cases admitted to our facility. Currently, we do have 60 patients with COVID admitted to our facility. And so we’re having a considerable surge on top of what had been months long plateau of cases in San Juan County. So we’re having some challenges with this increased number of patients and trying to reorganize and make sure that we are in a position to perform great care for those that seek it

Flower  01:55
For you, Jeff, I want to talk to you about these numbers. And from a hospital administrative standpoint, how you’re faring and your ability to serve those who are sick with COVID and beyond.

Jeff Bourgeois, President and CEO of San Juan Regional Medical Center  02:06
Our entire health care system in this state is strained and ours in particular, given the numbers that Dr. Greenberg has shared. We not only are seeing a high number of COVID admissions, but we’re seeing extraordinarily high volume and our urgent care settings, our emergency department settings, and then the non-COVID admitted patient volume is also very high, much higher than we had anticipated, coming into this fall.

Flower  02:35
And I want to be clear, this is not unique to San Juan County, New Mexico. When you’re looking regionally from the Four Corners perspective, Southwest Colorado is also experiencing some really high numbers in hospitalizations throughout the region. This has been a pandemic of the unvaccinated. How do we get that message across to those that are vaccine hesitant or not in favor of getting vaccinated for COVID-19? Dr. Greenberg?

Greenberg  03:02
Sarah, I think that’s a great question. And we of course, strongly advocate for COVID vaccination. Any of the approved vaccines within the United States would be appropriate for those either interested in MRNA vaccine or the J&J attenuated adenovirus vaccine. Those are great options. The best time to get vaccinated is two weeks ago, but I think that it would be also fantastic to get vaccinated now and I think one thing that’s really important here is that we’ve seen and we keep track of our data here, and 80% of all of our hospital admissions are in the unvaccinated and the vast majority of those that require either critical care, mechanical ventilation or suffer deaths are unvaccinated. These vaccines are safe access to information about myths surrounding the vaccines. You can get those answers either from our website or from any reputable science based source, but it is imperative to depoliticize vaccination. Depoliticize this pandemic. The science behind this is clear. And also the public health impact of this is also clear. We have a very large number of folks in our Intensive Care Unit. We traditionally have had a 14 bed Intensive Care Unit, we’ve expanded to a 23 bed intensive care unit and we are full, 23 out of 23 beds. So we need everyone, everyone to take some personal responsibility and do COVID safe practices again, wash their hands, wearing appropriate face covering, do social distancing, when feasible and when appropriate, and of course, become informed about vaccination and get vaccinated.

Flower  04:47
Jeff, for you from a hospital administrative standpoint, not all hospitals are as transparent in their numbers, in their data, in their testing and their inpatient services as San Juan Regional Medical Center. As someone who has followed this really closely, I’m curious from your standpoint, why you and San Juan Regional Medical Center have chosen to be so transparent about your numbers and sharing that moreover,

Bourgeois 05:12
Well thank you for acknowledging that, Sarah. I really haven’t thought too deeply about that. It’s just part of our culture, here. We are a community-based independently and locally governed hospital. Therefore, we think we have an obligation to be transparent with our community and those we serve. And we also believe that it’s important to get the facts out, as Dr. Greenberg mentioned, to deep politicize this pandemic. When we look specifically just going back to August 1 through October 5, 87.5 percent of the patients who have expired from COVID-19 at at our hospital, are those that are not fully vaccinated or unvaccinated. The statistics are clear and compelling. If you want to reduce the risk of getting COVID, reduce the risk of having to be hospitalized from COVID, and reduce the risk of dying from COVID, please get the vaccine. It is putting an extraordinarily heavy burden on the frontline caregivers who’ve been battling this, for what is soon to be two years. We owe them a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude. And I think we owe them the respect to consider what they’ve gone through.

Flower  06:28
Dr. Brad Greenberg, emergency room physician at San Juan Regional Medical Center, and one of the incident commanders of COVID-19 and Jeff Bourgeois, CEO and President of San Juan Regional Medical Center. Any final thoughts for our listeners here today.

Greenberg  06:43
One final thought is that I feel very privileged to work with a fantastic team down here at San Juan Regional Medical Center. I feel like everyone has been working incredibly hard in unorthodox ways to really just do their best to take care of folks, this is nurses, support staff, physicians, etc. And I implore everyone out there to offer their thanks and gratitude to all the health care workers that continue to offer their all in the context of this pandemic. And this will be this and this is a historic pandemic. And it should be for everyone who is experiencing hardship, either in health care and or not in health care. It should be put into that kind of context. This is difficult, we understand that it’s difficult, but we are going to get through this as a community, as a region together. And it’s only through the sum of our individual choices that we’re going to get through this. So let’s make good choices. Let’s appreciate the hard work of all those that have been involved. And we’re going to be there to help care for you in the future. Let’s just help get through this crisis together.

Flower  07:52
Jeff, for you?

Bourgeois 07:53
First and foremost, I echo those words, a deep sense of gratitude for all those caregivers on the front line. With respect back to the vaccine. If anyone out there is undecided, seek the advice of your physician or your primary care provider, seek advice from a reputable source, not from an unscientific presentation. The evidence is compelling. These vaccines are effective at reducing hospitalization, actually contracting the virus and then subsequently reducing hospitalization and most importantly, reducing mortality.