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Banner hospitals, Valleywise Health activate surge plan as COVID-19 numbers spike

Hospital room
Posted at 12:09 PM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-28 18:46:44-04

MESA, AZ — ABC15 has confirmed coronavirus surge plans have been activated at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix and several other hospitals in the Valley.

Hospital administrators are explaining how and where they are adding extra patient beds Friday. The information is being released one day after Gov. Doug Ducey said that "Arizona is on pause" as health officials expect to see more spikes in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.

A spokesperson for Banner Health tells ABC15 the plan includes moving adult, non COVID-19 patients from Banner Desert Medical Center to their Cardon Children's hospital. The facilities are co-located near Dobson Road and Southern Avenue. One of Cardon’s floors will be an adult intensive care unit, overflow space to increase ICU capacity.

Banner's chief clinician also addressed capacity concerns in a video produced by the hospital system.

"We are starting to get full," Dr. Marjorie Bessel said in the video produced Thursday. "We do have plans, however, to continue to increase our capacity."

Months ago, Arizona hospitals created emergency plans to add 600 ICU and 2,600 regular hospital beds statewide in case COVID-19 numbers spiked. This 'surge' capacity is in addition to hospitals' licensed operating capacity. Many hospitals did not set up the beds back then, but they are now adding additional beds to double-up patients in rooms or converting areas not typically used for patient care.

To care for the additional patients, Banner is using some cross-trained staff and is bringing in contract workers.

"Currently we have over 200 nurses who are very experienced," Bessel said. "They have ICU experience. They have PCU experience. Some of them have even worked in New York." Even so, Bessel admits staff is stretched thin.

The Arizona Department of Health Services' data website shows inpatient beds are 86 percent full and ICUs are 88 percent full statewide. Some hospitals are faring better, others worse.

An HonorHealth email obtained by ABC15 showed its Deer Valley location is at capacity, and John C. Lincoln Medical Center has an ICU operating near or at capacity. The five Honor Hospitals have a combined total of 34 vacant ICU licensed beds.

Valleywise Health, Maricopa County’s public hospital near 24th and Van Buren streets, said it activated its surge plan as a precaution but has not reached full bed capacity.

A Dignity Health spokeswoman said they are also implementing surge plans at Arizona facilities. Mercy Gilbert Medical Center is setting up beds in areas typically not used for patient care. Chandler Regional Medical Center and St. Joseph’s Hospital are putting up air-conditioned tents to accommodate some non-COVID emergency room patients.

Doctors across the state are preparing for a larger surge of patients.

“I walk in, and there’s a ventilator count on the whiteboard in the emergency department letting us know how many we’ve got,” said Dr. Larry DeLuca who works in a Tucson hospital.

DeLuca urges people to wear masks and increase their social distancing in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

"I had a colleague who was in the hospital on a ventilator for a week-and-a-half and is finally back out, but it shakes you up," DeLuca said.

Several hospital groups have told ABC15 they are delaying, limiting, or moving elective surgeries to facilities that are less full right now.

However, with surge capacity and separate treatment areas for COVID-19 patients, medical providers tell people they should not delay necessary care for any medical condition or illness.