State health officials are seeking federal help for 14 Arizona hospitals as they attempt to deal with the Covid pandemic.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it has been asked to provide staff who can administer monoclonal antibodies at seven of those hospitals, all in the state’s two largest counties. Those antibodies are a treatment for individuals who already have contracted the Covid virus.
There also are what the agency calls “open requests” for staffing in emergency rooms and nursing support at the Yuma Regional Medical Center and Canyon Vista Medical Center in Sierra Vista.
And the Department of Health Services tells Capitol Media Services it also has asked for aid for hospitals in Kingman, Bullhead City, Bisbee, Douglas and Willcox.
All totaled, state health officials say the seven rural hospitals are seeking a total of 133 staffers to deal with the situation.
The requests come as hospitals across the state continue to find themselves struggling to deal with the crush of new cases of Covid even as both bed space and, more to the point here, staffing cannot keep up.
And just this past Tuesday, Dr. Majorie Bessel of Banner Health said that the trends could put the hospital chain, the largest in the state “where we will be unable to meet the care needs of all Arizonans.”
The requests come as Gov. Doug Ducey provided another $35.2 million to extend the contracts of about 300 nursing staff at Arizona hospitals, bringing the total to close to $350 million. An aide to the governor said that without the additional cash the funding for those staffers would run out by the end of the year.
Documents obtained by Capitol Media Services shows the health department is asking FEMA to give top priority to hospitals in Mohave County where the Kingman Regional Medical Center, which reported 41% of its patients have Covid, says it immediately needs additional registered nurses and respiratory therapists.
“KRMC is worried that we may have to close beds in the near future if this surge continues as expected,” the FEMA application states.
The same application details problems up the road at Western Arizona Regional Medical Center in Bullhead City.
State health officials are giving second priority to Yuma Regional Medical Center where officials say they need temporary help in the form of 20 nurses who can staff the intensive-care unit “due to surge of patients of COVID.”
And the four hospitals in Cochise County — Bisbee, Douglas, Sierra Vista and Willcox — are listed as third priority.
Those requests are separate from the bids by several hospitals to get trained personnel to administer monoclonal antibodies.
In Tucson, that includes Banner University Medical Center and Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Help is being sought in Maricopa County by Banner Estrella Medical Center and Banner Health Center Plus in Glendale, as well as Valleywide Health Medical Center, Dignity Health’s Arizona General Hospital, and the central campus of Abrazo Community Health Network.
What makes the requests important is that there is evidence that monoclonal antibodies, which can decrease the level of virus in a patient’s blood, can reduce or potentially eliminate the need for hospitalizations.
Becky Armendariz, spokeswomen for the Banner hospital system, said its facilities are administering
roughly 170 doses of antibodies a day at its Arizona facilities.
“We are at capacity for this service at this time,” she said. Armendariz said Banner is working with both the state and county health departments “by bringing in additional staff to administer the treatment.”
All this comes as the health department reported Wednesday that of the 1,752 intensive-care beds at Arizona hospitals, only 88 are available in the entire state.
The state also reported another 81 new deaths, bringing the statewide total of 23,324. There also were 3,249 new cases reported.
FEMA spokesman Robert Barker said the requests for staffing help are part of the effort by his agency and the federal Department of Health and Human Services “to address unmet need in communities and hospitals nationwide.”
“We continue to work with our state and local partners to support their requests,” he said. But Barker
said his agency has more than Arizona to consider.
“Resource requests are up in a number of states at this time, with a lot of moving parts at the local, state and federal levels,” he said. “Nevertheless, we anticipate fulfilling the requests by the end of the month.”
Steve Elliott, a spokesman for the state health department, said the requests actually originate with each hospital and are funneled through local health departments which, in turn, route them through his agency. Those requests are then submitted to FEMA and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, part of the federal health department, “to see if resources are available.”
At that point, Elliott said, the federal agencies have a “virtual hospital assessment” with the facilities making the requests “to discuss and prioritize fulfillment if possible.”