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Arizona doctors worried about impending COVID-19 patient surge

Rural Hospital Reopens
Posted at 5:08 PM, Dec 01, 2020

PHOENIX — As the number of COVID-19 patients increases across Arizona, doctors and hospitals are bracing for a tough month and urging people to wear masks and social distance to help slow the spread.

On Tuesday, 11% of ICU beds remained available in Arizona hospitals, according to the state's coronavirus dashboard. COVID-19 patients currently occupy 34% of ICU beds.

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"We're about halfway to where we were in the Summer," said Dr. Sam Durrani, Chair of the HonorHealth Medical Staff COVID-19 Task Force. "But that halfway is going to put a bigger squeeze on us because we're used to running at capacity at this time of the year."

Dr. Durrani told ABC15 similar to what occurred over the summer, a surge in COVID-19 patients could strain staff and resources and increase mortality.

"When we are surging... that means we are stretching the hospital to its limits of capacity," he said. "Normally an ICU patient would be one-to-one care. We can stretch our nurses with additional resources we can stretch them to one-to-three. But that's not ideal care."

Dr. Durrani expressed concerns about the level of viral spread in the community and said he hopes to avoid enacting Crisis Standards of Care, a situation where doctors decide what patients get which valuable resources.

"It's absolutely horrifying to think of occurring in this country," he said.

Dr. Durrani said the crisis standards were not enacted during the summer surge and they have ethics teams that would decide who gets care in that scenario.

"That is what we fear the most as physicians, not being able to deliver care," he said. "And deciding who lives and who dies."

ABC15 also talked with a doctor at Mayo Clinic in Arizona who said in his career he has not had to enact crisis standards of care but is also concerned about current conditions.

"I've been in several disasters, volunteered for things like earthquakes and prior experiences in some major disasters but never to a point where we had to make those difficult decisions," said Dr. Ayan Sen, the Chair of the Department of Critical Care Medicine with Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Dr. Sen told ABC15 the weeks ahead could be a challenge. "I'm worried, concerned, and... exhausted," he said.

Dr. Sen said they have been able to increase staffing but noted many tired healthcare workers who have been on the front lines for the past ten months.

"It’s been surreal," Dr. Sen said. "We've taken care of a lot of sick patients here at Mayo Clinic."

He also referenced the many patients who survive the virus, but have many health complications as a result.

"The whole consolation of challenges that we face as a result of this illness is something that cannot be diminished," he said.

Both doctors ABC15 talked to Tuesday urged people to wear masks and social distance to help slow the spread of the virus.

"We're trained to work, and work hard, and we do," Dr. Durrani said. "We want to do what's best for our community so we're here to work and we'll do it until the job is done. The most disheartening thing is when we see the community kind of take a lax approach to the disease."