New Mexico hospitals are returning to the “hub-and-spoke” model of patient triage, which was used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, amid a rising number of pediatric patients.

Acting Health Secretary David Scrase issued a public health emergency order Thursday, citing an increasing number of pediatric patients, a shortage of hospital staff and a lack of certain types of medical equipment.

The hub-and-spoke model allows hospitals to more easily transfer patients to other hospitals based on how sick the patient is and the availability of resources.

The health order also calls on the state to apply for waivers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand bed capacity and take other measures because of the surge of patients.

The order also advises parents not to send sick children to school or day care and take other precautions, such as wearing masks in indoor settings and staying up-to-date on vaccinations.

“We expand our social networks during the holidays, which is an important part of nurturing ourselves as human beings living in a complex world,” Scrase said in a statement. “However, at the same time we create more opportunities for respiratory viruses to spread.”

The order will remain in effect until Scrase either amends or rescinds it.

The Department of Health said the order is needed because of a surge of pediatric patients and other hospitalizations for respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, COVID and influenza.

The order also said there is a shortage of hospital staff, including doctors, nurses and other providers. It said the state has a lack of bed and critical equipment, like oxygen supply systems, endotracheal tubes and pediatric oxygen converter kits, which are needed to treat RSV cases.

RSV is a common virus that usually causes mild symptoms, but the virus can be particularly dangerous for some infants and small children, especially those under 2, according to the DOH. It is spread by virus-containing respiratory droplets transmitted through coughing and sneezing.

“As health care providers in New Mexico, we will continue to work closely to support children across the state who need care at this challenging time,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical and clinical transformation officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services. “We encourage families to prevent the spread of RSV and other respiratory illnesses and to seek care if it is needed.”

Ryan Boetel, Albuquerque Journal