As hospitals experience an increase in covid patients in need of care, community spread is starting to impact the staff needed to care for those patients.
Mohave County has set weekly records for positive covid cases in each of the last five weeks, and hospital CEOs say those numbers reflect more than the increased availability of tests.
Kingman Regional Medical Center CEO Will McConnell said they have conducted a total of 18,000 covid tests since the start of the pandemic with about 9.6% returning as positive. But in the last 30 days that has risen to more than 24% of tests.
“What that indicates is the surge is real, and we are seeing many more covid-positive patients. That has now transitioned into our own staff from a community spread perspective,” McConell said. “Essentially this month we have had 96 staff members test positive - 47 in the last week. About 40 percent of that is bedside support - nurses, nursing assistant and those kinds of people. That has put a little bit of a strain relative to the staffing component.”
Havasu Regional Medical Center CEO Mike Patterson said the situation in Lake Havasu City is similar to Kingman’s. Patterson estimated between 75 and 90 staff in Havasu have contracted the virus.
“We have a few staff out every day, and it has ramped up a little bit over the last week and a half,” he said.
McConnell said about 21 of the covid cases among WARMC staff in the last month are personnel such as nurses and nursing assistants who are needed to provide inpatient care. He said KRMC is making use of its surge plans to shift its personnel from outpatient services and facilities to continue to fill the need on the inpatient side of their operation.
The CEOs at all four hospitals in Mohave County agreed that staffing levels are the limiting factor when it comes to the hospital’s ability to keep up with the influx of patients, because space can be allocated as needed.
“We all are in the same boat as far as trying to get enough staff, and keep them healthy so that they can provide the care that we need,” Patterson said.
Western Arizona Regional Medical Center CEO Mike Stenger noted that during the summer WARMC had a single isolation unit with 20 beds, but a month ago they opened up a second isolation unit with an additional 24 beds to accommodate the current surge in covid cases.
Patterson said as medical professionals learn more about the virus hospitals are getting better at treating it. He said covid-positive patients at HRMC are generally recovering a little bit quicker and in turn are being discharged more quickly than during the first wave of cases over the summer. But he said the local hospital has been averaging about 45 to 50 covid patients being treated in the facility in any given day.
But the covid situation in local hospitals changes quickly from day to day and even from shift to shift. Stenger noted that nearly half of all its inpatients were covid positive on Friday, while on Tuesday it was down to about 31% at WARMC.
“It changes that much, in that quick of a period of time,” he said.
Patterson said that the Arizona Surge Line has been a particularly useful tool for hospitals to deal with such unpredictable swings in hospital demand.
“We utilize the surge line everyday whether we can take a patient in or send a patient out - that is the beauty of it,” he said. “If we have a bed capacity and staff and there is a hospital that has that need then we have to be open to take that patient. And we are very happy at times when we don’t have the capacity and we are relying on our fellow hospitals to take some of the patients from our community so they can be in the right place at the right time and get the treatment that they need.”