Breaking News
More () »

Arizona hospitals struggling with staffing amidst COVID-19 surge

Staffing continues to be a struggle for Arizona hospitals as they care for the sickest of COVID-19 patients in the third wave of the virus.

PHOENIX — Hospitals in Arizona are continuing to care for those sickest with COVID-19 as cases continue to be driven by the highly contagious delta variant.

‘We are all feeling the effects’

As of Wednesday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients in Arizona hospitals with about 500 of them in the ICU.

“We are all feeling the effects of the surge we’ve been talking about,” Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Chief Clinical Officer for Banner Health said.

Banner cares for 44% of COVID patients in the state, according to Besel. Currently, Bessel said Banner hospitals have more patients in the ICU now than they did in the 2020 summer peak of COVID-19.

At Valleywise Health their Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Michael White said they had 38 COVID-19 patients in their hospital Wednesday with 14 of them in the ICU.
Both White and Bessel said they’re currently experiencing a plateau of patients at the moment, but most of their COVID patients are unvaccinated. White said 97% of their COVID patients had not gotten the vaccine.

RELATED: WHO chief urges halt to booster shots for rest of the year

Pediatric Patients

During August, Bessel said across all Banner hospitals, the average age of pediatric patients hospitalized with COVID was 8-years-old.

A spokesperson for Banner Health said those patients are typically in the hospital for just under four days. The spokesperson said adults with COVID average a seven to eight-day stay in Banner hospitals.

Bessel said 100% of COVID patients in Banner hospitals under the age of 20 are unvaccinated. Currently, no COVID vaccine is approved for children under the age of 12.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, is also impacting pediatric populations. Bessel said only 5% of patients have both RSV and COVID.

Bessel said it’s not really known why there is an unseasonable increase in RSV currently, but said an increase in people being around one another indoors without masks can contribute to the spread of respiratory viruses.

“It also reminds us that we have influenza season ahead of us,” Bessel said.

RELATED: 40 million coronavirus cases recorded in the United States

Staffing challenges

“We continue to have staffing challenges every day,” White said.

White said on average his hospital is running short-staffed by about 10 to 15 nurses a day.

“Across the organization, we have over 400 positions open from this. Within that bedside nursing, it’s about 150 bedside nursing positions that are open,” White said.

Last week, Gov. Doug Ducey set aside funding for additional nursing staff for hospitals that are providing both monoclonal antibodies and offering patients COVID vaccines upon discharge.

Valleywise is anticipating getting some staffing from that program, however, is awaiting specific numbers from AZDHS.

“We’re excited the program exists. We’re certainly are going to be able to utilize that to augment our staff and get us through the surge of patients that we’re seeing,” White said.

Bessel said Banner hospitals are also in need of staff. While they’re providing monoclonal antibodies to patients, they are not offering vaccines to patients upon discharge. A spokesperson said that is because of how widely available the vaccine is in the community.

Banner Health told 12 News they have roughly 1,000 core registered nurse positions open.

Bessel said the hospital system is continuing to bring nursing and respiratory therapists positions on a contract basis. A spokesperson said they’re looking to fill an additional 624 travel positions.

This is as Bessel said their modeling is showing they’ll see more patients coming in.

“We expect to be very busy and busier than we are currently,” Bessel said.

COVID-19 News and Updates

Subscribe to the 12 News YouTube channel to receive notifications on the latest videos about the latest information on the coronavirus.