'It's all COVID all the time': Frontline workers describe difficult surge

Healthcare workers
Posted at 5:18 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 23:21:36-05

Across the state, frontline workers are battling worsening conditions at hospitals, describing stretched staff and limited resources.

By some metrics on the state's coronavirus dashboard, every day is now the worst day of the pandemic. The number of COVID-19 inpatients at Arizona hospitals again hit a record high Tuesday, with 5,082.

"It's all COVID all the time," said Dr. Frank LoVecchio, an emergency physician at several hospitals in the Valley.

Dr. LoVecchio described strained resources during the surge, such as some ICU rooms housing two COVID-19 patients instead of one.

"In the old days, I would have a waiting room," Dr. LoVecchio said. "Now, most waiting rooms are converted into stable, or ambulatory, COVID areas."

Many COVID-19 patients that do need ICU care face an uphill battle.

"I've been here for thirteen-and-a-half years and these are the sickest patients I've ever seen," said Sara Reynolds, an ICU charge nurse at Valleywise Health Medical Center. "We're just running, running, running, fighting hard for these patients."

Reynolds described to ABC15 what her COVID-19 unit looks like.

"We have three patients in beds on one side, and on the other side we have six more, couple in the backroom," she said. "It's just patient, patient, patient. Ventilator, ventilator, ventilator."

She told ABC15 the week of Christmas was one of the most difficult weeks thus far, noting a lot of deaths.

"It's kind of a cycle we're seeing, that we have a whole group, we get to know their families, we get to know the patients, as much as we can through their families," Reynolds said. "Then most of the time they end up dying."

According to the state's coronavirus dashboard, the week of Christmas saw more than 600 COVID-19 deaths statewide.

"We work our butts off, we run our butts off, we fight so hard for these patients and a lot of times it feels like it's for nothing," Reynolds said. "Not for nothing, I mean we're going to fight no matter what, but just to see the amount of people that don't make it out, that's hard."

Conditions are tough at hospitals all across the state.

On Monday, the Pima County Health Department reported 5% ICU bed availability at hospitals in that county, equating to 20 beds. That is more available than in recent weeks.

"There are more patients and a higher proportion of people that have COVID-19," said Dr. Matthew Heinz, a hospital physician in Tucson.

Dr. Heinz is also a newly elected member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors. He told ABC15 the surge could soon become so overwhelming, it might force doctors into a position to have to make tough choices on who gets scarce resources.

"The whole thing is horrifying and heartbreaking but then saying, 'Yeah, we could have done this, but we didn't because there was a 30-year-old who was determined to be more important than your loved one, sorry about that," Dr. Heinz said. "I haven't had to have that talk yet. I hope I never do, but I'm worried that maybe I will at some point pretty soon."