Arizona hospitals stop some transfers of out-of-state patients amid COVID-19 surge

With Arizona hospitals admitting increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients, the Department of Health Service has suspended some transfers of patients from other states, officials said on Nov. 25.

Out-of-state hospitals can still transfer patients into Arizona through direct hospital-to-hospital requests, but the use of the interstate Arizona Surge Line system was suspended Monday, department spokesman Holly Poynter said.

The system was activated April 21 to expedite transfers of virus patients for higher levels of care, to efficiently use hospital beds and to equalize patient numbers among hospitals, according to the department.

Poynter said the Surge Line service for out-of-state patients will resume after hospital occupancy drops again.

The department says virus-related hospitalizations had reached 2,217 as of Nov. 24, including 531 in intensive care units. Arizona had about 500 virus patients most days during September before the outbreak worsened in October.

Including COVID and non-COVID patients, ICU beds reached 90% occupancy last weekend and remained at that level Tuesday, according to the department.

While some Arizona hospitals have been treating patients transferred from other states during the pandemic, some Arizona patients have been transferred to hospitals in neighboring states, including Nevada and New Mexico.

Meanwhile, Banner Health now needs to take on outside help. The medical system has secured 1,000 out of state medical personnel, and 900 more staff members are being recruited.

The company typically secures staff from out-of-state every winter, but this winter, thousands more workers are needed.

"In a normal winter of surge, there might be 14,000 positions posted to secure external labor. Last week, there were 20,000 positions posted," Said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Chief Clinical Officer for Banner Health.

Expert says business model for nurse staffing has changed

Amid the ongoing pandemic, Dave Dineno with Nurse Network, a national staffing agency for medical personnel, says their business model has changed.

"Our original model for 20-something years is more per diem, locally. Now, we’re seeing a lot more interest in contract work. 13-week assignments, four-to-eight-week assignments. We’re doing COVID testing. We’re providing the personnel," said Dineno.

Dineno says one area they are having trouble placing staff is in nursing homes.

"They don’t feel safe going into the nursing home to work, so there’s a staffing shortage in pretty much all of the health care facilities," said Dineno.

COVID-19 cases in Arizona

Arizona on Wednesday reported 3,982 additional known COVID-19 cases with nine more deaths on Nov. 25, increasing the state’s totals to 310,850 cases and 6,524 deaths.

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

Seven-day rolling averages of new cases, daily deaths and COVID-19 testing positivity all increased in the past two weeks, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project and Johns Hopkins University

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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.

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

FULL COVERAGE: fox10phoenix.com/coronavirus

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