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Staffing levels stretched thin as hospitals near ICU capacity amid COVID-19

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TUCSON (KVOA) - A Disaster Medical Assistance Team arrived Monday morning at Northwest Medical Center to help meet the staffing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A spokesperson with the hospital said the team, that was sent in by the federal government, includes ICU nurses and a respiratory therapist.

One Tucson doctor said with demand very high, ICU availability changes quickly as hospitals statewide are stretched to the brink.

“From hour to hour every facility is different, waxing and waning in terms of the numbers,” Dr. Matt Heinz, a hospitalist in Tucson said.

The number of beds and the staffing levels at our ICUs across Arizona can change every few hours.

“It also seemed there didn’t appear to be any availability per the surge line Sunday statewide,” Heinz said. “From what I can tell, that’s the first time that has ever happened.”

At the moment, Arizona is at nearly 90 percent ICU capacity.

“We can create all the physical space that we would ever need,” Heinz said. “It’s much more, 'do you have the staffing to take of the patient in that bed?' and that’s what really at a premium.”

The lack of staffing is a critical concern as a rising number of COVID-19 patients are in need of critical care.

“People that need critical care are not being denied critical care,” Heinz said. “They’re still getting the care they need in a somewhat different setting. They’re in the ER before we get them a critical care bed. It’s not the way it’s supposed to work, we should be getting them to ICU beds as soon as possible.”

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Eric Fink

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