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Valley hospital leaders warn they're getting closer to implementing triage standards of care

Clinical officers from five of the Valley's largest hospital systems say their resources are very strained.

PHOENIX — Leaders from five of the Valley’s hospital systems delivered a warning Wednesday as COVID-19 continues to surge in Arizona. 

Clinical officers from Banner Health, Dignity Health, Mayo Clinic, HonorHealth, and Valleywise Health spoke alongside one another at a joint press conference Wednesday, saying they are collectively very strained because of the demand COVID-19 patients have placed on the healthcare system.

"There will come a point at which healthcare needs in our community will surpass hospital resources if we continue to experience uncontrolled spread,” Dr. Alyssa Chapital, Hospital Medical Director at Mayo Clinic said. 

Right now, the leaders say the surge line is to thank for no one hospital or hospital system getting overwhelmed. 

“This collaboration is what has allowed us to be so successful as a state to weather the initial surge we saw this summer, and certainly, is going to help us overcome the surge that we are experiencing now,” Dr. Michael White, Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer with Valleywise Health said. 

The hospitals have adapted to make beds and other resources, like ventilators available, but the biggest concern looking ahead is staffing. 

“There is a limited supply of those individuals that are trained to deliver vaccines, to deliver ICU care, to deliver hospital care, clinic care, and they're all being utilized,” Dr. Stephanie Jackson, Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical Value Officer and HonorHealth said. 

Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows more and more people have had to be hospitalized with COVID-19 since early November, and as more people go into the hospital, the leaders say they get closer to limiting care. 

“If things continue to go unmitigated it increased the possibility that we would have to activate that,” Jackson said. 

The leaders say if triage standards of care are activated, they’ll all adopt them at the same time with plans and triage officers they have on standby. 

“If we got to that point we could make sure we’re providing what resources we do have in an equitable way,” Dr. Keith Frey, Chief Medical Officer of Dignity Health’s Arizona Division said. 

That's why they’re calling for more mitigation like a mask mandate, curfew and indoor dining to be closed, hoping they can slow the spread of the virus enough to avoid the worst-case scenario. 

“It is our absolute, sincere desire to not get to crisis and not have to get to triage,” Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Chief Clinical Officer with Banner Health said. 

“I can tell you as a clinician, no provider ever wants to have to implement something like this,” Chapital said.