Staffing at Arizona Banner Health facilities strained as omicron COVID-19 spread continues

Jan 12, 2022, 4:35 AM | Updated: 8:07 am
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to put a strain on staffing at Banner Health facilities in Arizona, not just with unvaccinated patients filling up beds but also as health care workers come down with the virus themselves.

Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer at the state’s largest health care network, in a press conference Tuesday said the consequences of the rise of omicron in Arizona are compounding a national shortage of medical workers.

“Similar to what we have seen in other parts of the pandemic, when the surge occurs in the community, our own employees also get ill,” Bessel said. “So we are seeing an increase now of our team members who are becoming ill.”

She said Banner Health has had to close some urgent care locations due to staff availability. As a result, Bessel said people are facing longer wait times at the urgent cares that remain open.

“We recommend that you check online to make sure the Banner Urgent Care location nearest you is open before you arrive, and when possible, schedule your appointment online to reduce your wait time,” Bessel said.

“Please also be kind and respectful to your health care workers. They have been under immense pressure for the past two years and especially during this most recent surge.”

She asked people to assess the appropriate level of care for an illness or injury as hospitals continue to be packed with COVID-19 patients.

Nearly a third of inpatient beds at Banner hospitals are occupied by COVID or suspected COVID patients, Bessel said, with roughly 90% of those being unvaccinated.

Banner has a blog that can help people decide whether to visit the emergency room, an urgent care or see their primary care doctor, in addition to an online symptom checker and a 24-hour nurse line.

Bessel said the network is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for when staff who test positive can return to work.

This includes allowing health care workers to come back five days after a positive result if they are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

Other health care providers around the country are allowing workers infected with the virus to stay on the job if they have mild symptoms or none at all, including Dignity Health in Arizona.

Bessel said Banner Health has not done that at this time but will continue to evaluate its response to the pandemic on a day-by-day basis.

Arizona reported more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases for the sixth consecutive day on Tuesday, according to the state health department’s dashboard, as Bessel said the state has yet to hit its peak of omicron.

She said the peak would likely occur in the upcoming weeks and that the number of cases and hospitalizations will also increase in the meantime.

Bessel did say other countries that dealt with omicron prior to it becoming dominant in the United States witnessed a very rapid descent from the peak.

“I’m sure that is something that everybody will be very excited to see, including all of us who are in health care,” she said.

Bessel recommends people get vaccinated and those already immunized get booster shots against the virus, in addition to wearing a good-fitting mask.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Staffing at Arizona Banner Health facilities strained as omicron COVID-19 spread continues