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Banner Health projected to reach surge capacity by December

(Banner Health Photo)

PHOENIX — Arizona’s largest hospital system expects to tap into its surge capacity in the next few weeks to handle spiking COVID-19 cases.

Banner Health currently has enough beds, ventilators, pharmaceutical drugs and personal protective equipment to care for patients. However, the system’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel warned their forecast tool “paints a very dark winter for us ahead.”

“Our tool shows that we will get above 125% of our licensed bed capacity starting about Dec. 4, and that we will continue that for some extended period of time, likely through mid-January,” she said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

Banner hospitals are preparing for another surge of patients by hiring more staff. So far, they’ve hired about 1,000 nurses and doctors mostly from out of state. They still need to hire 900 more.

That may be difficult to do as they face stiff competition from hospitals nationwide that are scrambling to hire additional staff to accommodate a rise in COVID-19 patients.

Bessel did not rule out the possibility of having nurses and doctors who test positive for COVID-19 and are asymptomatic continue to work if hospitals are short-staffed.

“That would certainly be something that we would try to avoid if at all possible but something that we recognize may have to come into play,” she said, adding it would be a last resort.

In Arizona, the state health department reported 4,544 new coronavirus cases and 51 more deaths on Tuesday. It was the highest daily case report since July 1 and the third-highest ever.

Cases have been surging since the beginning of October and are approaching record levels. Bessel said that has Banner Health having to aggressive action, similar to what the system did during the summer months when cases spiked.

Visitations were cut off this week at Banner Health hospitals in Arizona.

Bessel said no widespread decision has been made on whether or not to postpone elective surgeries similar to what happened during the summer.

“We are asking each one of our hospitals in the communities where they are to make a day-by-day and week-by-week decision,” she said, adding that there are patients who cannot wait for a prolonged period of time for their surgeries.

Bessel also doesn’t project Banner hospitals will need to be triaging once they reach 125% capacity, meaning they won’t have to limit care to patients.

With the holidays coming up, Bessel pointed to what happened after Memorial Day weekend in Arizona. She said that three-day weekend over the summer led to a “significant surge” of COVID-19 cases.

She encouraged people to avoid a repeat of that by limiting their Thanksgiving dinners to those in their households and to keep gatherings as small and as short as possible.

“The safest place for everybody during Thanksgiving is at home with your friends and family that you live with,” she said. “Every time you go outside of that, every time you invite one other person, one other family, you are increasing your risk.”

For Arizona vaccine information, visit azdhs.gov/findvaccine.

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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