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Flagstaff Medical Center ramps up for COVID-19

Flagstaff Medical Center (Wikimedia)

Flagstaff Medical Center (Wikimedia)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — As the only level I trauma care hospital in northern Arizona, Flagstaff Medical Center is on the front line in the fight against the COVID-19 virus.

Covering nearly 700,000 miles, Flagstaff Medical Center is the epicenter for advanced medical care for a region that covers Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Williams and the Navajo and Hopi Nations.

As of April 3, the hospital, which is operated by Northern Arizona Healthcare, has 32 patients with COVID-19 and has 22 who are awaiting results.

The hospital also reported that two FMC medical providers have tested positive for the coronavirus.

With a capacity of 265 patients, the hospital currently has 132 patients, according to the newly created FMC hospital census webpage.

“But what’s critical about that is that we are seeing a strain in our resources for the level of care and critical needs of these patients,” said FMC Chief Administrative officer Josh Tinkle during a NAHC leadership webinar April 2.

The hospital’s intensive care unit is at capacity, but Tinkle said plans have been developed to increase the number of beds at the hospital in-line with Gov. Doug Ducey’s order to increase bed capacity by 50 percent by April 24.

“I’m happy to announce we submitted our plan as of yesterday,” Tinkle said. “We plan to be at the capacity of 330 beds by April 10 and 396 beds by April 24.”

FMC has created additional ICU areas in the hospital by converting areas such as the Post Anesthesia Care Unit for non-COVID-19 patients, according to Derek Feuquay, chief medical officer for Flagstaff Medical Center.

Feuquay said the hospital is working with state and federal officials to share patient loads, especially those who are more stable. He said the state is looking to reopen St. Luke’s for coronavirus patients

“We are seeing a lot of the brunt because there has been a lot of activity out on the reservations,” he said. “They have been great partners in sharing this load, we can’t thank those in the valley enough.”

Tinkle said the hospital is currently taking in three to five coronavirus patients each day from the Navajo and Hopi reservations, and he said the hospital is expecting that to increase to seven to nine because of the increase of cases in those areas.

“We’ve had discussion with Tuba City where they were seeing an increase of cases and are basically full,” he said. “Anyone they are seeing they are having to transport out.”

According to John Mougin, chief quality officer at FMC, the hospital has 55 ventilators and 33 of them are currently in use. He said the total does not include conversions of BiPAP machines or anesthesia ventilators.

Feuquay said Gore and several outpatient surgery centers in Flagstaff have offered to help with ventilators. He said the hospital is also working with the state and federal government to secure more ventilators.

“I don’t know if we will run out of ventilators as a state, but they are saying we are going to need more than we have,” Feuquay said. “We will cross that bridge when we get there.”

Flo Spyrow, FMC chief executive officer, said the biggest challenges for the hospital at this time is keeping staff safe and securing personal protective equipment (PPE). She said the hospital is working with community partners for this need.

“I want to recognize the many construction and other organizations that have donated Tyvec, and the community members who are sewing surgical gowns to keep employees safe,” she said.

Other community partners include Gore, who has developed new masks for employees, and PRENT, who delivered over 1,000 face shields.

Mougin said the hospital has developed a few techniques to keep patients and staff safe, as well as reduce the use of PPE.

“Some solutions are simple like getting longer IV tubing so our IV pumps can reside outside of the patient’s room,” he said. “Others are more complex like using research out of Duke University to sanitize and reuse n95 masks.”

Despite an increase in critically ill patients, FMC is under the average number of patients at this time. As of April 6, the hospital had 132 patients, below the average of 191.

Tinkle said one of his concerns was that people were afraid to seek care for mild symptoms and for other ailments.

“There are a lot of people staying home with things like congestive heart failure that is getting worse, and not seeking care,” he said. “I am a little concerned that people are going to wait and conditions are going to get worse. Please seek care if you need it.”

Tinkle said NAHC is a tax exempt organization which means the organization will take care of patients regardless of their ability to pay.

“We believe that is our mission and duty,” he said.

Northern Arizona Healthcare administrators from Flagstaff and Verde Valley plan to continue weekly webinars to update the media and the public on the status of coronavirus in northern Arizona.

“We have no reason to not share information,” said Tinkle. “We want to be fully transparent, we are concern about what is being shared on social media and spreading rumors that aren’t true. We want to make sure everyone knows the truth.”

What to do if you have COVID-19 symptoms?

If you have a cough, fever, or shortness of breath or you are concerned that you may have been exposed to COVID-19, you must call your doctor’s office or the Northern Arizona Healthcare Coronavirus Hotline at 928-773-2301 or 1-833-708-0894 before visiting a doctor’s office or an urgent care location.

If you are having difficulty breathing, call 911 prior to seeking treatment.

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