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Tucson's hospitals managing a health-care crisis as beds fill with coronavirus patients
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Tucson's hospitals managing a health-care crisis as beds fill with coronavirus patients

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

With local hospitals at or near capacity for COVID-19 patients, the concern is not just about bed space, but equipment, supplies and staffing that might mean a patient has to be transferred to another hospital at any given time.

Local hospitals are at or near capacity for COVID-19 patients and are utilizing the state’s health-care emergency hotline to take in or move those seriously or critically ill.

While numbers fluctuate daily, all of Pima County’s hospitals and medical centers are now using the surge line set up by the state’s Department of Health Services for health-care emergencies and patient transfers. In this case, the emergency is managing an exploding number of people ill with the virus that causes COVID-19.

It’s not just bed space, but equipment, supplies and staffing that might mean a patient has to move at any given time.

As of Tuesday morning, ICUs in both Banner hospitals in Tucson were at capacity, as were Northwest Medical Center and Oro Valley Hospital, where patients from Pima County are being treated, as well as patients transferred here from the Navajo Nation, Yuma and Nogales.

The state reported 3,591 new cases Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 58,179. There have been 1,384 deaths in Arizona from COVID-19 and 42 new deaths were reported Tuesday.

“It is important to understand that hospital capacity is about more than just beds,” said Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, spokeswoman for Banner Health in Tucson, which includes medical centers at 1625 N. Campbell Ave., and 2800 E. Ajo Way. “When we look at our ability to deliver care at the highest level, we are also factoring in equipment, supplies and staffing.”

Patient transfers are taking place on a regular basis at Northwest Medical Center, 6200 N. La Cholla Blvd., and Oro Valley Hospital, 1551 E. Tangerine Road, said Veronica Apodaca, director of marketing for the medical providers.

“Over the past two weeks, we have received a significant number of patients through the Arizona surge line from other areas in the state, including Nogales, Yuma and the Navajo Nation, and from other hospitals in Tucson,” she said. “Monitoring of our census and bed availability is continual because it can change at any time as patients are admitted or discharged.”

As of Tuesday morning, Tucson Medical Center had 39 COVID-positive patients and 24 more tests pending. Late last week, TMC had 29 COVID-positive patients. TMC, at 5301 E. Grant Road, has 36 ICU beds and 20 of those are currently dedicated to COVID-19 patients.

“Capacity numbers are fluid and change frequently, due to a number of factors,” said TMC spokeswoman Angela Pittenger. She said they do still have non-COVID ICU capacity at this time.

“We have utilized the Arizona surge line recently as our need has grown. While last week we were primarily a receiving hospital for transfers, this week we are transferring patients who will need ICU level of care either immediately or within 24 hours due to constrained capacity in our COVID ICU.”

The state’s health line has been a good way to get patients the help they need, Pittenger said.

“Once a hospital has determined it cannot accommodate a patient, a phone call is made to the surge line and arrangements are made for transfer to a receiving hospital that can accommodate,” she said.

During the first 10 days of June, she said TMC had an influx of patients from Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales.

“Patients are transferred when the hospital believes the patient will need a level of care (such as ICU) that it cannot accommodate at that time,” she said. “This does affect capacity, so we monitor this. If we do not have capacity for Tucson patients, we don’t take patients from other counties.”

Carondelet hospitals here did not provide specific information about capacity or patient numbers during the last week.

“Like any hospital, the number of patients in-house can fluctuate daily,” said Angela Martinez, communications specialist with Carondelet Health Network, which includes St. Joseph’s Hospital, 350 N. Wilmot Road, and St. Mary’s Hospital, 1601 W. St. Mary’s Road.

“We continue to have capacity to care for COVID and non-COVID patients.”

Banner Health would not release its COVID-19 patient numbers in Tucson to the Arizona Daily Star but instead referred to the overall numbers statewide that are reported by all hospitals to the state’s Department of Health Services.

“We are load-balancing within the Banner systems in Tucson and Phoenix so that no one hospital is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients,” spokeswoman Ruiz-McGill said. “This means that we transfer patients and resources between Banner facilities to meet the needs of the community while not stressing any one hospital.”

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar.

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