ARTESIA — Artesia General Hospital (AGH) has issued a response to statements made at both Tuesday’s meeting of the Eddy County Commission and in a press release issued Tuesday evening by the county regarding the number of COVID-19 vaccinations that have thus far been distributed to Eddy County residents.
Eddy County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) manager Jennifer Armendariz informed the commission Tuesday that a vaccination clinic involving the OEM, the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH), the City of Carlsbad, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and the Carlsbad Fire Department had recently issued first-dose vaccines to 220 individuals in Carlsbad.
A second clinic set for today, Armendariz said, will see 220 second-dose vaccines distributed, along with first doses to 200 additional individuals.
In a release issued Tuesday evening, commissioners “expressed their extreme concern” regarding the overall low number of vaccinations in Eddy County based on the NMDOH’s new vaccination dashboard — located at cvvaccine.nmhealth.org/public-dashboard.html — which shows Eddy at 26th out of 33 total counties in terms of percentage of the population vaccinated.
Eddy County is currently listed as having vaccinated 6.3% of the population, with 3,658 people having received either their first or second dose.
Armendariz noted that AGH has “gone above and beyond” in its efforts thus far but also noted that Carlsbad Medical Center (CMC) has opted not to serve as a community vaccination hub.
It was stated in the subsequent press release that a spokesperson for CMC had commented “that their facility is willing to assist in any way possible; however, the guidance and restrictions placed upon them by the New Mexico Department of Health has severely limited their ability to provide vaccinations to the general public.”
It was unclear to what specific guidance and restrictions the CMC spokesperson was referring. However, a lack of vaccine distribution by Carlsbad’s hospital would obviously be contributing to a slower vaccine rollout in the county.
The Daily Press contacted CMC to request clarification and inquire as to what the hospital felt needed to change in terms of guidance and restrictions before it would consider reversing course on its decision not to serve as a hub. CMC issued the following response Thursday afternoon:
“Our provider team has been stretched for months to consistently deliver safe, quality care in the midst of the pandemic. Vaccination of our providers is ongoing as we receive more doses from the state. The vaccine is an important protection tool so we can sustain our healthcare workforce.
“We’ve been in communication with the City of Carlsbad and Eddy County Government since the fall to keep them informed about our census and staffing challenges from community spread. The New Mexico Department of Health is coordinating distribution of vaccine doses across the state.
“This is a monumental undertaking and we look forward to meeting with representatives from the New Mexico Department of Health, Artesia General Hospital, the City of Carlsbad and Eddy County in the coming days as a vaccine distribution plan is updated for our Eddy County community.”
The county’s release stated that the “number of doses administered in Eddy County is disproportionate to the number of citizens in the County compared to other counties across the State. Eddy County is the 11th most populous County in the State. Concern was expressed about the availability from local providers such as CMC and AGH. […] Judging by the vaccination figures from other Counties, there would appear to be discrepancies in how NMDOH provides and administers the number of vaccinations available.”
District 2 Commissioner Jon Henry commented that “it is a travesty and shame the number of hoops the state is making us jump through just to get the vaccine to our citizens, when folks can drive across the state line and get vaccinated in Texas with no problem.”
The county’s release says that commissioners want to “ramp up the number of vaccinations available to citizens and have tasked County Administration to work with all entities to resolve the issues and establish a plan to change the current situation on behalf of the citizens of Eddy County.”
AGH made clear Wednesday, however, that it has been actively distributing the COVID-19 vaccine since it first arrived in the community, with the hospital’s first dose issued Dec. 16, 2020. AGH CEO Dr. Joe P. Salgado, M.D., also clarified that numbers on the NMDOH’s vaccination dashboard may appear lower than they actually are due to current interfacing issues between the hospital’s and the state’s reporting systems.
Salgado’s full letter, issued Wednesday evening to the Daily Press, is included in its entirety below:
“Dear Citizens of Eddy County,
“I am writing this letter as a response after reading the press release from the Eddy County Board of Commissioners. Also, I was able to listen to their meeting held Tuesday morning, and I was able to watch the interview of Mr. Jon Henry and Mr. Steve McCutcheon earlier today.
“I have to say first and foremost that as the Chief Executive Officer of Artesia General Hospital and as a physician, my priority is the safety and health of the citizens of Artesia, our employees, and any other patients who choose to receive care at AGH. It cannot be overstated that all of us have had a lot to endure over the past year or so. With that said, it was quite disheartening to listen to how misinformed our county representatives are with regard to COVID-19 vaccine distribution in our area.
“First, I agree that we need to do a better job at vaccinating the county. There is no debate necessary on this topic. Secondly, I cannot and will not speak on behalf of Carlsbad Medical Center because my priority lies with my organization. However, I would encourage the county and Carlsbad city leaders to take a hard look at Carlsbad Medical Center’s decision not to participate in distribution of the vaccine on a larger scale.
“I will note that Artesia has energetically lobbied for additional doses of vaccine. Early on, when hospitals in Roswell and Carlsbad declined to participate further, we were allocated some of those doses. As of end of day today, AGH has given close to a total of 2,100 doses that include both primary and booster doses. Also, this count does not include doses given by our local Walmart and Presbyterian Medical Services.
“We appreciate both of these organizations in helping offset some of the demand due to high volume. I am proud to report that, each week, we continue to make strides in getting first-dose vaccines into the arms of individuals in our community, and we are up to approximately 12% of the population in Artesia.
“Lastly, I would like to speak to the process of obtaining vaccine in our state. Our process for obtaining vaccine began in early November, and our first dose was administered Dec. 16, 2020. There have been issues with access to vaccine at the federal and state level. However, if local organizations in our area elect not to participate, their allocations go elsewhere.
“Currently, we offer the Pfizer vaccine at our facility that is delivered to us from the state via the National Guard. This process is done as a result of us not having an Ultra-Low Temp Freezer. Use within five days after delivery from the National Guard is required because it is placed in our refrigerator. Once it is reconstituted out of the refrigerator, we have a few hours to administer the vaccine into the arms of individuals who desire to be vaccinated.
“Tight scheduling is of the utmost importance, and realize there are numerous individuals within our organization who have worked tirelessly to administer vaccine. Also, we have to document in both our Medical Record and State Websites for information to be uploaded. Unfortunately, our current reporting system does not interface with the State of New Mexico’s dashboard, so our numbers may appear lower than they are.
“I would encourage any of our elected officials to reach out to myself or members of our medical team to discuss our processes locally.
“Sincerely, Joe P. Salgado, M.D., Artesia General Hospital”
AGH has recently entered Phase 1B of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NMDOH’s vaccination plan, and residents who qualify are encouraged to add their names to AGH’s waiting list. Full details are available in the article on today’s front page headlined “AGH enters Phase 1B of COVID vaccination plan.”