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March 13, 2020

Hospital Plans for COVID-19

The Gila Regional Medical Center has a comprehensive plan in place to protect the health of anyone who visits or works at the hospital or clinics.

Out of an abundance of caution, Gila Regional is implementing screening measures for signs of respiratory illness and exposure to COVID-19. This protocol will be in place until further notice.

“Onsite, we will use standardized screening questions in the hospital and clinics,” said Dr. Steve Kotch, Emergency Department Medical Director. “While this may be an inconvenience, we know the community will understand that Gila Regional is prioritizing their health and well-being. We ask patients to arrive early for appointments and try to limit the number of people you bring with you.”

“We have dedicated staff, supplies needed, and are committed to helping keep our employees, medical staff, volunteers and community safe,” said Dr. Tsering Sherpa, Chief Hospitalist and Infectious Disease physician. “We receive regular communication from Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and continue to collaborate with the New Mexico Department of Health and state public health officials to ensure our hospital, clinics and community benefit from the latest prevention, testing, and treatment protocols. The good news is, simple infection control techniques like handwashing, covering your mouth and nose while sneezing and not touching your face appear to be effective in controlling the spread of the virus.” Dr. Sherpa mentioned collaboration is already happening. “Local clinics, fire departments, nursing homes and others are working together with the hospital to develop community-wide plans.”

According to Dr. Sherpa and Dr. Kotch, if you are concerned you have COVID-19, they recommend you call the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) Coronavirus/COVID-19 hotline (1-855-600-3453) to answer questions or concerns. The NM DOH will have an expert 24/7 and recommends not calling the local hospital to answer questions, as this may be disruptive to care necessary for patients. You can also go to an Urgent Care if symptomatic. They can evaluate you and determine if you meet the CDC guidelines for testing based on symptoms, travel and exposures. If you do meet the criteria, you will be advised as to how to proceed with testing.

“Currently, we are testing in accordance with CDC guidelines. As this situation changes, we will continue to evolve our testing procedures”, according to Dr. Sherpa.

“It’s important to keep in mind that most COVID-19 cases are mild and only a small percentage of patients will require hospitalization. Many patients will be able to recover at home. Currently, care for COVID-19 patients is supportive as there are no medications available to treat this disease”, said Dr. Kotch.

“We encourage everyone to practice regular infection prevention techniques such as washing their hands frequently, avoiding touching their faces, cough etiquette and staying home when they are sick” said Dr. Sherpa.

Chief Nursing Officer, Rose Lopez, in collaboration with William Hemmer, Infection Prevention, is leading a task force at the hospital to review processes, policies and plans already in place for epidemics such as COVID 19. According to Ms. Lopez, “We are following the CDC and New Mexico DOH guidelines for policy and processes such as the prevention of coronavirus transmission to managing supplies and determining self-monitoring for staff”.

Additionally, David Peck, Director of Nutritional Services will be implementing several changes to the public cafeteria. “We are closing the salad bar, as this is considered a high-risk area. We will still have salad items available, but it will be individually packaged. A grab and go.” The hospital is also not allowing any reusable cups or to refill using the same cup, as explained this could be another potential for transmission of a virus. “All high touch areas will be wiped down with more frequency than usual”, said Mr. Peck.

Chief Quality and Compliance Officer, Tanya Carroccio, mentioned that communication to the community and hospital staff is imperative. “We are developing a consistent and timely communication plan to ensure our staff feel safe and our community is aware of how we will be able to manage should a crisis occur in Grant County”. Ms. Carroccio mentioned that the Environmental Services Staff are well trained and highly competent to keep the environment disinfected and wiped down.

“The Emergency Department has competent and prepared staff. That is what we do. We anticipate emergent situations, such as an influx of flu symptoms. If you have a mild illness, or exposure, stay at home to reduce the transmission of the virus or go to urgent care if you feel it is necessary”, said Dr. Kotch.

As the hospital receives updates and information, they will continue to share with the community.

New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) Coronavirus/COVID-19 Hotline (1-855-600-3453).

For the latest COVID-19 information, visit