Reflecting on lessons learned from tripledemic

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Local hospitals are still strained, but the number of children they’re caring for has dropped after a surge in three different viruses.

“Predicting the respiratory viral surges is really difficult,” said Dr. Steve McLaughlin, chief medical officer at the University of New Mexico Hospital. 

Fully predicting when a surge of viruses, or even pandemic will happen is nearly impossible. One of those surges hit the country, and impacted UNMH heavily in November.

Federal help came to UNMH in late December to lend an extra hand to the healthcare staff who were working long shifts due to an overflow in their pediatric center.

“Bringing in, asking for assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is just one piece of the puzzle of how we’re trying to manage a really complex problem,” said UNMH spokesperson Chris Ramirez. 

Now at the end of January, those numbers have gone down and the triage tent outside, used to see extra patients, should be going down soon too.

“UNM hospital has been seen really seen kind of gradual decreases in pediatric admissions since mid-December, and right now we’re really back to our normal, busy but sustainable winter volumes on the pediatric side,” said McLaughlin.

Pediatric numbers are down, but other parts of the hospital are still over normal capacity.

“The adult side, the hospital remains above our ideal capacity, and that’s due to some continued respiratory viral activity,” McLaughlin said. 

But after living through a pandemic when an unpredictable event strikes a hospital like this – what can be learned to make sure things work as smoothly as they can with the unexpected?

“Our emergency operations center framework that we use so that we could bring together the resources that we need. We were making, you know, decisions every day about cohorting patients, how we’re going to use staff and those decisions, you have to have that right structure,” said McLaughlin. 

While surges like are unpredictable in the medical world, hospitals do operate under plans to somewhat prepare for the unexpected.

“More than 10 years ago, we developed a pandemic influenza response plan. And so we’ve used that plan along with that emergency operation center structure, and what we do is we use that as the sort of framework, and then you create flexibility around that,” McLaughlin said. 

And while people can still can contract COVID, the flu, or respiratory viruses, it looks the peak season of that has luckily passed.

“We are really through the busiest part of that tripledemic, and we will expect to see some of those cases still going on through the spring,” said McLaughlin.