With some hospital beds empty, healthcare workers go on furlough

Hospital furloughs

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - In the midst of an international pandemic which is still weeks away from its predicted peak, some hospitals on Tucson are furloughing some of its staff.

Which ones and how many isn’t clear yet, but it’s enough to catch the attention of some government officials who worry it could have an effect on the COVID-19 response when cases begin to spike.

According to numbers released by the Institute of Health Metrics, as of April 10, 2020, Arizona had 315 intensive care beds available. But right now, 153 of them are empty.

There are 384 available emergency room beds but 255 of them are empty.

Because hospitals staff workers according to need, if beds are empty, there’s less need for healthcare workers in certain departments.

“They are being forced to make some very, very hard decisions as they see their revenue streams shrink,” Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia, said. “And some of those decisions have to do with staff.”

Part of the issue, Garcia said, is that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has put all elective surgeries on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hospitals are not able to utilize the beds even though they are empty.

Those empty beds will likely be used when the peak of the pandemic hits Arizona, which could be within the next two weeks.

“We have an adequate number of beds,” Garcia said of the projected surge.

His concern is that the governor is spending millions of dollars opening up new facilities for more beds as he did in Phoenix this week. There is also some speculation that the state has been scouting Tucson for more beds as well, such as the Heart Hospital on River Road and Stone Avenue, which has been closed for five years. The Tucson Convention Center is another site under consideration.

“It would cost millions and millions and millions of dollars” to bring them up to standards before they could used to admit coronavirus patients.

Garcia said he believes that money could be better spent making sure local hospitals can keep staff ready for the surge.

“We need them to keep their staff employed, we need them to keep their staff energized and trained and fully resourced with the right PPE the right equipment to do their jobs," Garcia said. ”So that when the tidal wave hits, as it will soon, they are prepared to meet that challenge.”

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.