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Health officials backtrack as no ‘triage’ taking place in hospitals under Arizona’s Crisis of Care Plan

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Posted at 5:45 PM, Jul 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-03 14:23:31-04

PHOENIX — No "triage" is taking place under Arizona’s Crisis Standards of Care Plan, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Triaging of patients is part of a very detailed plan by the state that would help medical professionals make tough decisions on who would get what level of care if resources become critical.

On Monday, Dr. Cara Christ announced in a press conference that she was implementing the the state’s crisis of care plan after a committee made the request. The committee is made up of healthcare professionals across the state. See here for the full roster.

But, four days since the state announced that hospitals can operate under its crisis of care plan, AZDHS said no hospitals are triaging patients in the state of Arizona.

In a statement from AZDHS, health officials said, “Our activation of the Crisis Standards of Care plan was to address the recommendations from the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee, including to ensure hospitals prepare for staffing and activating all licensed beds and all surge beds.”

This new information comes a day after Vice President Mike Pence was in town to meet with Gov. Doug Ducey on the COVID-19 response.

In an informal question-and-answer portion, multiple reporters asked Pence about the state activating its crisis plan.

The vice president seemed to indicate he did not have this information, saying, “and I must tell you, today, I can’t account for the reports you cite. But the reality is, from the briefing I received today, hospital capacity remains within manageable lines, 85% of hospital beds are spoken for, 88% of ICU beds are spoken for. We continue to see cases rising, but we’ve surveyed hospitals across the state, personal protection equipment appears to be in abundant supply.”

Pence went on to say, “We don’t ever want any healthcare professional making a decision about who gets healthcare and who doesn’t.”

ABC15 reached out to the governor’s office about the vice president, who seemed surprised by this report.

A spokesperson for the office sent us a statement that read, “We appreciate the thoughtful conversation with Vice President Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, and we are grateful their continued commitment to provide Arizona with support and resources as necessary.”

It went on to say that, “the assertion that Arizona hospitals are deciding 'who lives and who dies' would concern anyone, and the implication that this practice is currently taking place would be a surprise to anyone who is closely monitoring the facts and actual hospital usage — because it’s simply not the case. Arizona hospitals are NOT triaging care.”

ABC15 also reached out to several hospitals around the Valley, including a spokesperson for Banner Health who said they are not triaging patients.

In an email, they said:

We are not triaging patients at this time. We have adequate capacity and resources within the Banner Health system for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.

We continue to load balance between Banner hospitals. That means that we transfer patients or resources between our facilities to keep patient volumes balanced and manageable.

We are exploring all options to increase bed capacity. Some of these activities include:

  • Utilizing available clinical care space in other areas of the hospital. This includes repurposing pediatric beds for adults.
  • Evaluating non-clinical care areas to determine if they can be used for patient care.
  • Converting single occupancy rooms to double occupancy rooms.

In regard to staffing, some of the specific actions we have taken to address this need include:

  • We have contracted with agencies to bring in out-of-state healthcare workers. In the past two weeks we have brought in more than 200 travel nurses and have roughly 40 respiratory therapists joining Banner very soon.
  • We have upskilled more than 700 team members. This means that we train a team member from another unit or area of the hospital in the skills necessary to care for patients in our respiratory cohort units.

As always, we would like to continue to remind the community that we cannot fight this virus alone. We need everyone to do their part to help reduce the spread. Stay at home when you are ill, except to receive medical care. Wear a mask when out in public. Stay six feet away from others. Wash your hands frequently. Wipe down surfaces that may be infected. Avoid gatherings of 10 or more.

Dignity Health also said they are in phase two of the tiered plan.

“The Arizona Crisis Standards of Care Plan was established by the Arizona Department of Health Services to provide a tiered response and recovery framework for health care facilities that are dealing with a major emergency like COVID-19. Dignity Health hospitals in Arizona are currently operating in the contingency category which is the second tier of the plan and is often referred to as ‘surge’. Our hospitals have not reached the indicators to activate and operate within the crisis category, which is the highest level of the three-tiered plan,” a statement read.