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Arizona hospitals see 'exponential' rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases

The Valley's hospitals are scrambling to find enough nurses who can care for the rising number of children being hospitalized for the coronavirus.

PHOENIX — The COVID-19 delta variant surge continues across the country and hospitals in Arizona are looking for enough staff to help match the increasing rates of hospitalization.

Banner Health, the largest healthcare system in the state, and Valleywise Health, a public healthcare system in the Valley, both said Wednesday that they are short-staffed, especially when it comes to nurses.

Valleywise Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Michael White said his hospital was missing nearly two dozen nurses at the time he was speaking to 12 News Wednesday morning.

“I am short 22 nurses this morning. So that is the acute number that I knew of this morning,” Dr. White said. “We have over 400 [open] positions and 160 are nursing positions.”

Dr. White said these staffing shortages did not meet the level that would require Valleywise to transfer patients to other hospitals.  

“But that’s something that could certainly happen if the numbers increase,” Dr. White said.

Banner Health is Arizona’s largest healthcare system, and its chief clinical officer, Dr. Marjorie Bessel, said something similar to what her Valleywise counterpart said.

“Please get vaccinated as soon as possible. Do it to protect yourself from serious illness and death and please do it to support the healthcare systems in your community,” Dr. Bessel said. 

Dr. Bessel urged Arizona residents to consider the sacrifices already made by the state's health care workers throughout the pandemic. 

“They sacrificed so much for you and rose to the occasion during the prior two surges when there was no solution as effective as we have now today, which is a vaccine to prevent hospitalizations,” she added. 

Dr. Bessel said 94% of those hospitalized in the Banner system due to COVID-19 were unvaccinated. Dr. White said that number was 95% for Valleywise Health.

Banner had also seen an “exponential” increase in hospitalizations of children for COVID-19, though Dr. Bessel said most of the hospitalizations did not require ventilators or intensive care. 

Even so, Banner hospitals had admitted 70 children with COVID-19 or suspected cases of COVID-19 during the first two weeks of August. Banner admitted 71 pediatric COVID-19 cases throughout the entire month of July.

Dr. Bessel said that Banner Health had additionally seen an increase in hospitalizations for reasons that have little or nothing to do with COVID-19.

“The high number of non-COVID patients in our ICU is due in part to the fact that many delayed care in 2020 because of the pandemic, and they are now seeking care of illnesses and medical issues that have become more severe,” she said.

Whether patients are arriving in the ICU due to COVID-19 or some other illness, they still require staff, and staffing is in short supply at both Banner and Valleywise.

“Our teams are tired. They’re getting stretched quite thin,” Dr. White said.

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