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Arizona activates hospital plan with guidance for rationing health care

An ambulance is parked at Arizona General Hospital shown Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in Laveen, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Arizona has activated a guidance plan for health care professionals facing difficult decisions about how to ration dwindling resources as the number of COVID-19 patients climbs and hospital beds fill up.

During a press conference Monday, Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said Arizona’s Crisis Standard of Care Plan went into effect that afternoon.

She said such plans – which address shortages in space, staffing, supplies and standards of care — have been activated in “a lot of states” and called it a proactive move.

“It gives the hospitals a framework that allows them to determine if they do get short on resources how they can allocate those,” she said. “The other thing that is done so it also gives their health care workers some liability protection as well.

“So not all of our hospitals actually meet crisis standards of care just yet.”

Christ said the decision to activate the plan was made on the recommendation of the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee, which is made up of representatives from across the Arizona’s health care system.

(State of Arizona Graphic)

Will Humble, who preceded Christ as the state’s health director and is now executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Tuesday the plan is “essentially a mechanism for deciding who gets that care when you don’t have enough to go around.”

He said the protocol involves a scoring system for determining which patients should be given priority based on the severity of their medical condition.

Humble said that people with lower scores should be treated first, according to the plan, because there is a greater likelihood for recovery. The patient’s age is also part of the equation.

“So somebody who is, let’s say, in their late 80s, for example, might be given a couple points just because even if they do recover, they may not have that many years left,” he said.

At the same press conference where Christ said the crisis plan was being activated, Gov. Doug Ducey put the state’s reopening plans into reverse, shutting down bars, nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters and water parks for at least a month and pushing back the start of on-campus K-12 schooling for at least two weeks.

Ducey said to expect case counts to keep increasing for several weeks before the impact of the new policies shows up in the data.

New cases have been increasing at a faster rate than testing has been increasing, indicating community spread of a virus that has no impact on some people and is seriously debilitating or fatal for others. Infected people who don’t show symptoms are still capable of spreading the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday morning, the state had documented 79,215 COVID-19 cases, with 1,632 deaths.

The number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients (2,793) checked into Arizona hospitals, as well as the number of those patients in ICU beds (683), climbed to all-time high marks again Monday.

The percentage of inpatient beds (85%) and ICU beds (86%) in use remained near pandemic highs, although neither of those marks has changed much in the past week.

As of Sunday, 224 of Arizona’s ICU beds were unused, 13 more than the previous day and up from the low point of 198 seen June 24.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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