Banner Health warns its Arizona hospitals are stretched thin

Dec 15, 2021, 4:45 AM
(File photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)...
(File photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
(File photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

PHOENIX –The state’s largest hospital system is running out of beds to care for patients and warned Tuesday it may need to start choosing who can receive care if hospitalization trends continue.

“We are more stretched now than we have been since the start of the pandemic,” Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer for Banner Health, said in a virtual news conference with reporters.

On Tuesday, Banner Health hospitals in Arizona were operating at 97% of their staffed bed capacity, and five of the 18 Banner hospitals in Arizona were operating at more than 100% capacity.

“ICUs are where we are experiencing the most significant strain on our resources,” Bessel said. “Currently, COVID patients account for 36% of our ICU patients – 88% of those COVID ICU patients are unvaccinated.”

She added half of Banner Health patients on ventilators are COVID positive. They’re also seeing a high volume of patients who delayed care in the past and are needing to be hospitalized now.

Statewide, the number of unused hospital beds reached pandemic-low levels in the past week, when remaining capacity was as low as 4% each for inpatient and ICU beds.

While COVID hospitalizations remain near delta wave high points, available space had crept up to 7% of capacity for inpatient beds and 5% of capacity for ICUs by Monday.

Because of current patient volumes, Banner Health has had to make some changes to free up hospital beds. That includes postponing surgeries that require ICU-level care and delaying non-urgent appointments at primary care clinics.

“Banner’s predictive modeling tools show no signs of letting up,” Bessel said. “We expect that volumes will continue to increase throughout December and into the beginning of next year before peaking around the middle of January.”

She noted Banner Health’s forecast does not account for the omicron variant of COVID-19, which has already been found in Arizona.

The first six cases of the omicron variant were detected in Maricopa County this week. Another case was confirmed in Yavapai County last week.

“My top ask of the community at this time is for all who are eligible to get vaccinated and receive your boosters if you have not yet done so,” Bessel said. “This is the best way to prevent serious COVID illness that requires hospital-level care.”

She also pleaded to the public to only go to the emergency room for life-threatening health issues.

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Banner Health warns its Arizona hospitals are stretched thin