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LAS CRUCES – Patients recovering from COVID-19 at home or in a hotel room after being discharged from a hospital may be taking some electronic equipment with them.
Electronic Caregiver, the Las Cruces-based health technology company, is providing Memorial Medical Center and MountainView Regional Medical Center with take-home kits allowing them to communicate with medical providers who can monitor vital signs remotely.
For the “COVID to Home/Hotel” program, jointly funded by the city of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, volunteer clinical staff use Electronic Caregiver’s technology to check on patients, remind them to take prescribed medications, gather medical data and connect them with services as needed.
Patients in distress can also use it to connect with a nurse or other clinician.
An Electronic Caregiver Pro Health System is pictured in a promotional photograph, consisting of a console, thermometer and a pulse oximeter that clips onto a finger to take a patient’s pulse. (Photo: Courtesy of Electronic Caregiver)
Discharged patients eligible for the program are sent home with a console that operates like a mobile phone and does not require an internet connection. In addition, patients will generally be sent home with a pulse oximeter that clips to a finger, a digital thermometer and a blood pressure cuff.
The system also includes a wrist device, resembling a watch, with an emergency button. The console presents buttons for speaking with a volunteer or calling for emergency service.
“At 3 a.m., if they feel like they need to go to a hospital, they can hit a button and they’ll be talking to someone directly through the box,” Tim Washburn, chief clinical officer at Electronic Caregiver and a registered nurse, said.
The first five participants in the program were enrolled at a Las Cruces hotel on Nov. 23 with 30 systems delivered to hospitals. While the technology is not new, Washburn said the mobilization of several community organizations to staff the program and provide local patients with a 24-hour support system is unique.
The patient may connect with a physician completing their residency or a nurse from the Medical Reserve Corps, and as more organizations get involved the voice on the line may be someone from New Mexico State University’s nursing program. The Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine is also exploring how its student physicians might assist with some evaluations.
On Sunday, 880 individuals were hospitalized for COVID-19 in New Mexico.
Hospitals around New Mexico have had to enact surge plans as the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has spread rapidly throughout the state, and as hospitals run low on beds, ICU resources and staff, they are working quickly to implement remote patient monitoring and care where they can.
Washburn said he hopes the Las Cruces program will lead statewide efforts to offload the burden on hospitals and limit contact between infected patients and medical personnel.
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“I think the use of different organizations doing different pieces but working together collectively, that’s not being done at this level anywhere else in this state,” Washburn said.
Physician John Andazola of the Southern New Mexico Family Medicine Center said there were approximately 100 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Las Cruces Tuesday.
Over his 25-year career, Andazola said, “I have never seen a disease process that occupies 30 percent of a hospital. Many of those patients require significant types of oxygen supplementation that we can’t do as an outpatient, and they require a lot of nursing and other staffing because they are sick and require a lot of resources from the hospital.”
Native Las Crucen John Andazola, MD is the Program Director at the Southern New Mexico Family Medicine Residency Program. (Photo: Algernon D’Ammassa/Sun-News)
For patients eligible for a lower level of care, Andazola said the program held tremendous promise to support patients recovering on an outpatient basis, and to facilitate other services during recovery.
“There’s a lot of people with unmet social needs,” Andazola said. “If they’re quarantined, on oxygen and feeling ill, it’s hard to get food or prepare meals or other things. The county and city have been aware of that and been doing that for people in hotels. It truly is a community collaboration to get this up and running.”
Danielle Fitzsimmons-Pattison, another physician at the center, said staff initiate contact with patients anywhere from several times a day to once a day to check on patients’ progress, and to respond if a patient’s condition is deteriorating. On Monday, one patient enrolled the program returned to a hospital based on their communications.
Physicians completing their residencies at the center along with faculty are among the providers, and Andazola said more residents could participate as needed. Fitzsimmons-Pattison added that additional community members with requisite medical training might also be brought on board as needed.
“It does have the potential to help some of the community doctors as well,” Fitzsimmons-Pattison said. “Since these people will be able to be monitored in their home, they’re not having to follow up and community doctors aren’t going to be (allotting) their time to do that.”
Electronic Caregiver is headquartered in the Las Cruces Tower, the tallest building in Doña Ana County, as seen in a 2018 file photo. (Photo: Maggie A Adams/ For The Sun-News)
Washburn said Electronic Caregiver has the technology and experience in place to secure patients’ medical information while allowing team members access to their data as needed.
As for fears of a surge in COVID-19 cases following the Thanksgiving holiday, Washburn said, “We’re going to help every human being we can help,” and said that in the worst-case scenario, medical call centers with whom the company already contracts had the personnel needed to ramp up the program in a hurry.
“If I needed to help 5,000 people in Las Cruces tomorrow, I could do that,” he said.
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Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, [email protected] or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.
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