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'Not the level we need': White House sends help for Arizona's COVID surge, but it falls short of hospitals' requests

Biden unveils new pandemic plan as omicron wave hits. Hospital group hopes for more help 'as things become more dire.'

PHOENIX — The Biden Administration is sending help to Arizona hospitals overwhelmed by the latest pandemic surge, but hospitals fear it's not enough.

President Joe Biden unveiled his new battle plan Tuesday against the omicron variant. Biden touted free, at-home rapid COVID tests that would be available online sometime next month.

Also in the plan: Sending "strike teams" to Arizona and five other states where the new omicron wave - largely infected unvaccinated patients - has helped fill hospital beds.

Hospitals in seven Arizona communities that serve largely rural populations had asked the Biden Administration for more than 130 medical professionals.

Only two hospitals got help from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS).

Yuma Regional Medical Center and Sierra Vista's Canyon Vista Medical Center, in hard-hit Cochise County, requested dozens of nurses. The two hospitals will have to make do with 20 paramedics between them.

"It's not at the level that we need," said Anne-Marie Alameddin, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association. The organization represents rural Arizona hospitals desperate for reinforcements.

"As facts change and things become more dire, hopefully the feds will take another look."

RELATED: Arizona's largest hospital network to make cuts in care if patient count keeps increasing

Alameddin said the paramedics could help out in emergency rooms. The tornado response in Kentucky may have drained federal resources.

FEMA also dispatched 10 nurses and nine respiratory therapists, as well as medical equipment, to the Navajo Nation, according to information provided by Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly's office.

As of Tuesday, 95 percent of beds in Arizona intensive care units were filled, the highest level in 10 months, according to ADHS. 

COVID-19 patients accounted for 40 percent of the patients. 94 percent of all in-patient beds were occupied, with COVID patients accounting for about 30 percent of the beds.

Last week, Banner Health, the largest hospital network in the state, said 88 percent of the COVID patients in its ICUs were unvaccinated. Banner warned it might have to start reducing care by the middle of January.

Public health experts warn that the return of another COVID wave, this time with a vaccine in hand, shuts out patients needing other kinds of care.

RELATED: Arizona hospitals under pressure as Ducey renews vaccine mandate ban

A study released last week showed Arizona had the country's highest rate of "excess deaths" this year - death from various causes that were well above what might be expected in a normal year.

Will Humble, a former state health director who was one of the study authors, said a higher prevalence of deaths connected to diabetes was likely a result of patients either not seeking or being shut out of care during the pandemic. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are unvaccinated face a risk of dying from COVID that is 20 times greater than the risk for someone who is fully vaccinated.

"Hospitals are full and we're really at the tipping point," Alameddin said. "We need very person, we need the community  to do their part."

Coronavirus in Arizona

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