NM Legislators Demand Army Hospital To Combat COVID-19

By Emma Whitford
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Law360 (March 31, 2020, 4:45 PM EDT) -- The U.S. Department of Defense must deploy a 248-bed combat support hospital to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to fight a “surge” of COVID-19 patients in the state, a delegation of lawmakers told the DOD and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The novel coronavirus pandemic “threatens to overwhelm the State’s existing medical treatment facilities and resources by early April,” Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland, and Xochitl Torres Small wrote in a letter on Monday.

“Although many hospital systems across the United States are feeling the strain of this public health emergency, New Mexico’s limited existing capacity, particularly in the rural regions of our state, make our healthcare system especially vulnerable to being overwhelmed by this pandemic,” they wrote.

Monday's letter reiterates New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's March 25 request to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper that “the [combat support hospital] be in place and mission-ready by April 10, 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.” 

In addition to the field hospital, federal legislators are seeking mobile Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources units for struggling communities across the state.

In a statement to Law360, Udall emphasized the importance of increasing health care capacity for New Mexico’s 23 tribes and pueblos, specifically. 

"In many ways, Native American communities are particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis," Udall said. "Tribes have been very clear that this pandemic will be disastrous if they do not get the necessary public health resources to protect their communities. We need to ensure that we rapidly expand our state’s hospital bed capacity for the protection of all New Mexicans, and especially those most vulnerable to this pandemic.”

The federal government's $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package includes more than $10 billion for tribes. House Democrats say more is needed.

The state of New Mexico had identified 136 positive cases as of Friday, according to the delegation. As of Tuesday, the case number is 281, according to the state's Department of Health website. 

The DOD did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A FEMA spokesperson declined to comment. 

--Additional reporting by Andrew Westney. Editing by Alanna Weissman.

​​​​​Correction: The headline and text of an earlier version of this article incorrectly named the type of hospital New Mexico officials demand. The error has been corrected. 

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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