Military teams leave San Juan Regional Medical Center

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SAN JUAN COUNTY, N.M. – During the past several months, San Juan Regional Medical Center had to rely on federal staffing help for its response to COVID-19.

In November of last year, SJRMC was not in good shape. The medical center was dealing with staff shortages and a spike in COVID hospitalizations. The hospital went into crisis standards of care, and the U.S. military and FEMA teams stepped in to help.

"It was something that we really really needed. It was a relief for our staff for sure. It was great for patient care just in terms of the relief and being able to expand what our staff and them were able to do together," said Dr. Robert Underwood, SJRMC chief medical officer.

The military teams were mostly made up of U.S. Navy personnel: doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Team Delta was one of the longest-deployed teams at the hospital – what was supposed to be a 30-day stay turned into 60 days.

Last Friday, they were deployed back home. Now, following their departure, there’s some relief to the ongoing staffing shortages.

“We can still always use staff, we’re always recruiting for nurses, and respiratory therapists and having them here would be a great benefit. We’re offering lots of incentives to get folks to join our team so I wouldn’t say that we’re perfect, but boy’ we are better than we were back in November and December when those folks first arrived," said Underwood.

COVID hospitalizations are still a bit high – with about 50 patients – but Underwood said those numbers are a lot more manageable now.

“We anticipate that number will continue to go down. Of course, we’re seeing the omicron surge that we’ve been seeing within our local community, that number is starting to decline."