As COVID-19 cases are rising in the state, patients should not be afraid to seek medical care, said the head of the Health System Alliance of Arizona whose members are among the largest hospital systems and top employers in the state.
“We are particularly concerned about folks who have diabetes, hypertension, underlying health conditions, that they might be scared to seek routine medical care and that there are others that may have acute medical needs, that they may be scared to obtain medical care,” Jennifer Carusetta, director of the alliance, said Monday.
Carusetta said that while coronavirus cases are posting high numbers right now, hospitals have the capacity to handle them.
“I think it is really important to emphasize that protecting our patients’ health and safety is always our top priority. It was our top priority before the pandemic and it continues to be our top priority now,” Carusetta said.
The alliance represents five large hospital systems in Arizona: Banner Health, HonorHealth, Dignity Health, Tenet Healthcare and Northern Arizona Healthcare.
Between them, they operate more than 80 acute hospitals and medical facilities in the state and employ more than 50,000 Arizonans.
Uptick in cases was expected
Hospital systems along with state officials have put measures in place over the last few months to prepare for expected surges in May and June, public health officials said Friday during a press conference about the recent spikes in cases.
To avert a crisis, hospital and health officials are renewing their call to the public to double down on hand washing, face coverings and social distancing to keep the numbers in check. The healthcare system cannot do it alone.
If capacity gets too low, hospitals are under emergency order to reduce elective surgery admissions to free up beds for COVID-19.
A rise in cases was not unexpected, Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) said at the Friday press conference with Governor Doug Ducey. As of Monday, Arizona has had 27,678 cases with 1,047 deaths.
A number of factors are contributing including the lifting of the stay-at-home order on May 15, Christ said.
Arizona is also in its sixth week of a statewide “testing blitz,” Gov. Ducey said. As of Monday, more than 402,000 COVID-19 tests and antibody tests had been conducted.
Included in that testing has been the state’s intense effort to test staff and patients at long term facilities statewide. DHS is on target to have all facilities tested by July 11, Christ said.
Surge system in place to allow for quick transfer of patients
In April, the state DHS and hospital partners created the Arizona Surge Line to have the ability to quickly admit, transfer and discharge COVID-19 patients to appropriate levels of care should cases spike.
So far, the Surge Line service has assisted 583 hospital patients including transferring over 500 patients to an appropriate placement, Ducey said.
Last week, the DHS also unveiled a new improved method for determining inpatient and ICU bed availability to better react to surges. The updated method is now posted in the Hospital Bed Usage and Availability section of the agency’s dashboard.
Hospitals using telehealth, new technology to adapt
Hospitals have also adjusted the way they provide care, including increased sanitary measures, required screening for the coronavirus upon entry, and investments in virtual and other technology to protect patients and staff.
HonorHealth, for example, is one of a few hospital systems in the country that has over 30 germ-zapping robots. Made possible by donors, the small robots use high-intensity ultraviolet light to disinfect a patient room in just minutes.
To encourage social distancing, Dignity Health is offering anyone a free virtual care visit through the end of the month if they or a family member is exhibiting mild COVID-19 symptoms such as low-grade fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. Anyone can speak with a healthcare provider on their phone or device for free with an online coupon.
Banner, one of the largest nonprofit hospital systems in the country, announced last week a rapid, expansive deployment of telehealth in the acute-care setting. Hospitalists and specialists at all 28 Banner Health hospitals now can conduct virtual patient visits on COVID-19 units. Now, Banner is bringing virtual technology to the ICU.
Physicians in the hospital can conduct a thorough exam without entering a patient room. They can check on their patients at any time, including talking with them, viewing their vital sign monitors and, using the advanced camera option, can zoom in close enough to even check a patient’s pupils.
Public asked to continue social distancing
Gov. Ducey said Friday that the state is doing “everything possible” to reduce the spread of the virus and will continue to monitor the situation. The state has not reached the desired goal of 14 straight days of downward trajectory, said the governor, who called on citizens to help keep the disease from spreading.
The Centers for Disease Control guidelines for preventing the spread include:
- Wash hands often and use 60-percent alcohol-based hand sanitizers
- Avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact
- Stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Throw used tissues in the trash
- Monitor health for symptoms and stay home if ill