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Metro Phoenix hospitals scramble to make room as coronavirus cases surge

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

PHOENIX  — Several metro Phoenix hospitals are scrambling to make room for patients as the number of coronavirus cases in Arizona surges.

Banner Health confirmed Friday that Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa has activated its surge plan, as have other facilities in the state’s largest hospital system.

The Banner Desert surge plan includes moving patients without COVID-19 to Cardon Children’s Hospital.

One of the floors at Cardon Children’s, which shares a campus with Banner Desert near Dobson Road and Southern Avenue, will convert into an adult ICU to increase adult ICU capacity.

Banner also said that Banner–University Medical Center Phoenix had to divert patients to different hospitals for about three hours Thursday due to a high volume of emergency room patients.

Banner is continuing elective surgeries but may pause them later, Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the hospital system’s chief clinical officer, said Thursday.

“We might need to do a little bit more some weeks if we have capacity, and other weeks, we’re going to have to do a little bit less,” Bessel during a video Q&A session. “It’s going to be a constant managing of the elective surgeries.”

Banner Health said Thursday it had brought in 200 additional nurses via contractor as part of its strategy to avoid exceeding surge capacity at its hospitals.

Dr. Cara Christ, the state’s health director, said Thursday more than 1,100 patients have been transferred statewide through the Arizona surge line.

Meanwhile, Dignity Health is halting elective surgeries at St. Joseph’s hospital near downtown Phoenix and the smaller Westgate hospital in the West Valley starting Saturday until at least July 6, spokeswoman Carmelle Malkovich said Friday.

“Elective cases that are currently on the schedule will proceed, however we will not be scheduling additional elective cases to take place next week,” Malkovich said.

At hospitals in Chandler and Gilbert, officials are closely watching planned elective surgeries that might result in a hospitalization, she said.

An official with Honor Health, which operates hospitals in Scottsdale and North Phoenix, said elective surgeries are continuing.

The state on March 19 restricted elective surgeries to save hospital capacity and personal protective equipment for use in treating COVID-19 patients, but on May 1 allowed the procedures to resume as officials said hospitals had enough capacity and the ability to add more beds.

Overall inpatient bed usage was at 86% on Thursday, and ICU bed usage was at 88%, both matching the pandemic-high marks first reported Tuesday.

The capacity data on the health department’s website doesn’t include surge beds that can be activated if needed.

The Arizona health department reported 3,428 new coronavirus cases and 45 additional deaths Friday morning.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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