Available ICU beds in Pima County dwindle as COVID-19 cases spike in Arizona

Updated: Jul. 7, 2020 at 6:03 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A record amount of deaths from COVID-19 were reported Tuesday, July 7, from the state health department after the holiday weekend, and more than 3,600 new COVID-19 cases. Another stat continuing to go up is the usage of intensive care unit beds.

“The more aggressive we can be, the more we can keep people from being intubated and out of the ICU,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Pima County Health Department.

Tuesday, the state reported 90 percent of ICU beds are being used, about 870 of the beds for COVID-19 patients. The strain seen across the state is similar to Pima County. PCHD said the county has 357 total ICU beds, as of Tuesday morning, there are only 11 free, but the number can fluctuate throughout the day.

Northwest Medical Center said in a statement, “We monitor our census continually, and it changes frequently throughout the day. As local cases have increased, there have been times our COVID units were at capacity and we utilized the Arizona Surge Line to transfer COVID-positive patients outside of our system.”

Northwest said they continue to perform elective surgeries, but “but review the schedule daily to ensure we have the appropriate resources.”

TMC said they have also used the surge line, which transports patients to available beds across the state—or nation.

“We are seeing a surge of hospitalized patients in our COVID units and our COVID-ICU. Our COVID-ICU has been constrained because of this, however every patient is receiving the care they need. We do utilize the Arizona Surge Line when we are nearing capacity in our COVID-ICU and feel a patient will need that level of care. This has been a quick and effective way to ensure every patient receives the care they need,” said a TMC spokesperson in a statement to KOLD.

TMC said they are continuing “medically necessary procedures,” but are “continuously monitoring the schedule to make sure we have the appropriate care necessary.”

“It’s so people can get care, so the surge line does look outside of the region to make sure there is appropriate care for the patients,” Cullen said.

Banner said they have been receiving patients from the surge line. PCHD says it is not uncommon, during non-pandemic times for patients to be transported to other states, but as the ICUs fill, hospitals are finding other ways to treat patients within their walls—including pediatric units.

“What we know is the hospitals have extended their ICU beds in their facilities…they’ve gone in the peds ICU and put adult beds in the peds ICU,” Cullen said.

In a written statement to KOLD, a spokesperson for Banner UMC said, “We are exploring all options to increase bed capacity. Some of these activities include utilizing available clinical care space in other areas of the hospital. This includes repurposing pediatric beds for adults, (and) evaluating non-clinical care areas to determine if they can be used for patient care.”

Banner said hospital capacity is about “more than just beds” and they look at equipment, supplies and staffing when making decisions during this time when they are seeing “higher than normal volumes.”

“At this time we still have capacity for Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients in our Arizona facilities. We continue to load balance between Banner hospitals,” said a spokesperson for Banner in a written statement.

Hospitals around the state and in Pima County have gotten addition medical staff from the US Department of Health and Human Services, including ICU nurses and respiratory therapists. PCHD said the state has looked at alternative care sites, though this would be the last option to consider—including mobile hospital units.

“The state has access to five, what we call push packs,” said Dr. Cullen. “They’re 50 beds, so you can come in a deploy 50 beds.”

PCHD said months ago, the Tucson Convention Center was looked at as a potential alternative care site, nothing is planned at the moment though. PCHD said we are in a “stable crisis,” as there has been time to plan for a surge like this, including acquiring the necessary PPE. PCHD said they do not see a shortage of PPE from their standpoint.

“Our warehouse is pretty full. There’s nothing we’re predicting that we’d have a shortage of,” Cullen said.

Hospitals in the area are urging people that the situation is serious and ask people follow CDC guidelines by wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding groups larger than 10 people.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.