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ICU physician speaks out about hospital overload in Arizona

Posted at 10:00 PM, Jun 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 14:05:50-04

“It’s pretty disheartening, I should say, when we deal with patients who are dying on a daily basis,” said Pulmonologist Dr. Suresh Uppalapu.

Dr. Uppalapu, an ICU physician and medical director of the respiratory department at Banner University Hospital, is talking about images he has seen from Old Town Scottsdale over the past few weeks.

“People think their age is a protective factor, but we have seen people as young as 29, 31, 34 either dying from this or severely ill that they’re on the verge of dying,” said Dr. Uppalapu.

In fact, he’s seeing a dramatic increase in people between the ages of 20 and 45 contracting the virus.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, state ICU bed capacity is hovering around 88%.

Dr. Uppalapu says that number may not even capture the true severity.

“ICUs have been running at max capacity over the last few days, and our ECMO program reached max capacity a few days ago,” said Dr. Uppalapu.

Patients are put on ECMO machines as a last resort to keep them alive.

Hospitals around the Valley are now gearing up to activate surge plans.

That could mean opening additional floors, conference rooms converted to patient areas, and even hospital beds in hallways.

“None of us want to be having our loved ones to be cared for in the surge models, because the providers get only a limited amount of time to deal with their sickness and they’re so severely ill battling a life and death situation,” said Dr. Uppalapu.

He's begging the community to avoid large gatherings, to stay home, and wear a mask.

At this point, he says he can't rule out the possibility and the necessity of another stay-at-home order.

“Health care providers like me don’t want to see that because we want families to have their livelihood and life go on in a responsible manner, but a second shutdown may very well be a reality,” said Dr. Uppalapu.