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Arizona state health director tells hospitals to activate emergency plan

Virus Outbreak Arizona AP
Posted at 3:31 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 09:52:19-04

PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Health Services director sent out a letter this weekend, informing hospitals in our state to "fully activate" their facility emergency plans.

In doing so, the hospitals are going to be preparing surge beds, cross-training staff, and possibly reducing or suspending elective surgeries to "ensure adequate bed capacity for both COVID and non-COVID admissions."

The Saturday letter states the hospitals need to identify additional ICU and inpatient beds to meet the 50 percent additional bed increase.

The state's hospitals now must determine whether or not to move their facilities from conventional care to contingency care, and also prepare for crisis care.

The letter was dated the same day that ADHS director Dr. Cara Christ told ABC15 that her department's staff had made errors and reported incorrect hospitalization numbers since April on the Arizona Department of Health Services coronavirus dashboard.

ADHS miscalculated the number of hospital beds currently available and in use in Arizona, due to staff members' confusion about the hospitals' licensed bed capacity and surge capacity.

Read the full letter below:

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"What you’re really starting to see now is a realistic assessment and check-up of, are we really ready for an upsurge of COVID-related cases?" said ASU Law Professor James Hodge, who is a contributor to Arizona's Crisis Standards of Care plan."We’re going to do the best we can with the resources, beds, and personnel that we have - against the backdrop of an infusion of new cases."

For state health leaders, that means potentially using resurrected field-hospitals like St. Luke's.

"So it’s able to be activated should we need it, as we see bed capacity dwindling in the state," said Jessica Rigler, Assistant Director of ADHS.

The state is also directing hospitals to use the surge line.

"We’ve seen people transferred from rural parts of the state - from eastern Arizona, northern Arizona, [transported] down to central and southern Arizona, so they could get a higher level of care," said Rigler, who notes 500 patients have already been transferred to another hospital using the portal.

As the cases grow, Governor Doug Ducey continues to weigh the costs.

"What we’re after nationally, and in Arizona, is a sustainable strategy on how to balance the economic impacts and the public health risks," said Hodge.

The recent COVID-19 ICU data is not what state leaders are eager to see.

"As of today, we had about 23% of ICU beds reported available across the state," said Jessica Rigler, ADHS. In other words, more than 75% of Arizona's ICU beds are in use right now.

And it is not just beds that are rapidly dwindling.

On Friday, ADHS reported the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, while medical centers across the state had 1,234 coronavirus inpatients and 718 emergency room visits.

Banner Health says they are seeing a steady climb in coronavirus cases in Arizona and they have reached capacity for patients receiving ECMO treatment.

ADHS first sent a letter in March telling hospitals to activate their facility emergency plans to respond to COVID-19. The June letter included updated information.

The rise in cases has led ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ to once again "urge" hospitals to activate their emergency plan.

She encouraged them to do the same thing back on March 25, but the situation in the state was very different at the time, as the stay-at-home order had not run its course, and the hospitals were not inundated with COVID patients.