Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Banner Hospitals Hitting Capacity as Health Officials Urge People To Get Vaxxed, Boosted

Posted By on Wed, Dec 15, 2021 at 4:05 PM

click to enlarge Dr. Marjorie Bessel said 88% of COVID patients in ICU are unvaccinated. - BANNER HEALTH
Banner Health
Dr. Marjorie Bessel said 88% of COVID patients in ICU are unvaccinated.

Banner Health, Arizona’s largest healthcare system, reported hospital inpatient numbers are at the highest level since the start of the pandemic during a Dec. 14 press conference.

Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel begged the public to get vaccinated ahead of the holiday season during Tuesday’s press conference. Bessel said some Banner hospitals are operating above 100% capacity.

“Currently, COVID patients account for 36% of our ICU (Intensive Care Unit) patients,” Bessel said.

She added that 88% of those COVID ICU patients are unvaccinated "and half of our patients on ventilators are COVID positive.”

Although COVID patients aren’t the only people filling hospital beds, unvaccinated people are more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people. The Arizona Department of Health Services recently released a report showing unvaccinated Arizonans were 3.9 times more likely to test positive for COVID and were 15.2 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than vaccinated Arizonans.

It’s been exactly one year since COVID vaccines became available in Arizona. On Dec. 14, 2021, Gov. Doug Ducey announced Arizona had received the first doses of COVID vaccines. The past year provided ample opportunities for research on the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. The AZDHS report shows an overwhelmingly positive impact the vaccines have on personal safety and lowering the need for hospital stays related to COVID infection.

“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.”

Bessel said Banner is at a contingency level of care but could transition to crisis standards of care if hospitalizations continue to rise.

Contingency level of care means that hospitals are not operating normally. Bessel said Banner staffers have been doing less documentation and certain patients may have experienced prolonged wait times for non-essential healthcare visits. Healthcare staff is also being moved to different units they don’t normally work in to support the lack of health care workers. The national labor shortage hit the healthcare workforce hard this last year.

“We are experiencing the impact of this shortage in our hospitals, with many core team members who decided to retire, exit the healthcare industry, or transition to non-bedside roles because of prior surges and the enormous physical and mental impact the pandemic has had on them,” Bessel said.

Banner Health has hired 2,600 travel workers to support on-site staffing.

Crisis standards of care are determined by the State of Arizona and AZDHS has a procedural plan to provide healthcare institutions with guidance. According to AZDHS, crisis standards of care will only occur during the most extreme disasters that directly impact the healthcare system.

AZDHS guidelines say crisis standards of care will apply when most of the community’s infrastructure is in bad shape; local officials can’t perform their roles to assist the community; community functions are irregular, and there’s a major strain on regional resources.

Although Arizona healthcare systems have not hit this threshold, Bessel said it is possible. Banner Health estimates future hospital needs by forecasting surges in inpatient care and recent forecasts are not positive.

“If our continued forecast holds true, we will be in a position where we will be unable to meet the care needs of all of Arizonans,” Bessel said.

The current forecast from Banner Health says hospital needs will continue to increase until a peak in mid-January.

The estimate follows the timeline of seasonal holiday celebrations. Public health officials have been reluctant to tell people to avoid family gatherings during the holiday season, but they recommend wearing a mask indoors if family members are not vaccinated and to get vaccinated before congregating with family members.

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