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Arizona hospitals at 83% capacity, elective surgery may stop
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Arizona hospitals at 83% capacity, elective surgery may stop

From the June's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Bars, gyms face shutdowns; Tucsonans worried telemedicine might disappear series

Experts: Arizona needs to act urgently to slow COVID-19 spread

  • Updated

Arizona hospitals were at 83% of capacity Tuesday, up from 78% the previous day, according to state data. Under rules of an executive order issued in April, hospitals can conduct elective surgeries only if 20% of their beds are available.

Arizona hospitals that are expected to be able to treat new cases of coronavirus without going into crisis mode were above 80% capacity Tuesday, a milestone that should trigger an automatic stop to elective surgeries at affected hospitals.

The report showing statewide hospital bed use at 83% of capacity, released Wednesday by the Department of Health Services, comes as the state deals with a surge in virus cases and hospitalizations that experts say is likely tied to Gov. Doug Ducey’s ending of statewide closure orders in mid-May.

Ducey has been criticized for not adding requirements that could prevent a surge, and some say the time to put those measures in place has come.

“If we don’t do some things right now, we’re going to end up either at a stay-at-home order or overcapacity or both,” former state health director Will Humble said. “But the things that we can do now, they’re going to take time to work.”

They include better infection control in nursing homes, masks in public and allowing cities to crack down on bar districts where social distancing has been ignored, Humble said. Ducey did none of those things when he lifted his orders last month.

Halting elective surgeries would greatly affect patients, since surgical procedures influence their quality of life in measurable ways and are needed. And a halt would be a major financial blow for hospitals who get a major portion of their revenue from procedures. Many hospitals instituted furloughs, pay cuts or other savings measures during the first ban on elective surgeries.

The number of hospitals affected was not immediately available from the state Department of Health Services on Wednesday. And none of the hospital chains contacted by The Associated Press said they were halting surgeries. Banner Health, the state’s largest system with about half the state’s beds, said it was below the threshold.

But there are some hospitals that have acted, said Ann-Marie Alameddin, president and CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.

“I have heard of hospitals that have canceled procedures to make sure they are preserving that extra capacity,” Alameddin said. “It’s a financial issue, but hospitals are going to manage their patient care appropriately to make sure they can meet the needs of the community if there is a patient surge.”

Ducey halted elective surgeries March 19 to preserve personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns in the early part of the pandemic. The rules established under an executive order Ducey issued in April that allowed hospitals to resume elective surgeries are clear: Hospitals can only perform them if they have at least 20% of their beds available. Other requirements include adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, robust testing of all at-risk health-care workers and patients scheduled for surgeries, and prioritizing elective surgeries based on urgency.

Arizona hospitals were at 83% of capacity Tuesday, up from 78% the previous day, according to state data. The state also exceeded 80% one day last week.

The state has seen a major surge in virus patients that started about 10 days after Ducey’s stay-home order and other restrictions ended May 16. That’s about the period of time it takes the virus to begin causing symptoms in patients.

The state reported 1,556 new cases Wednesday and 25 new deaths. That brings the total cases to 29,852 and deaths to 1,095.

Pima County had 3,350 total cases Wednesday — 189 of them new. Coronavirus deaths reached 216.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.

For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner’s chief clinical officer, has been urging the public to take steps to slow the spread of the virus. They include wearing masks, limiting exposure in public spaces and frequent hand-washing.

“We do have an ability to mitigate the spread of this virus right now — it’s not necessarily the message that people always want to hear, but it is the message of what we know about the virus,” she said.

Not taking those steps will impact people needing care at hospitals and the health workers who will be overworked. And if Banner is forced to end elective surgeries, that’s a big deal, she said.

“Elective surgeries — they’re a little bit of a misnomer,” Bessel said. “These are necessary surgeries — they’re medically necessary surgeries.”

That means they are needed surgeries, just not so urgent that they need to be done immediately.

“Anybody who’s had a surgery knows that,” she said. “If you need a surgery, you need a surgery.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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