Embattled Arizona hospitals bring in hundreds of out-of-state nurses

Dive Brief:

  • Arizona’s Department of Health Services is partnering with Texas-based performance improvement company Vizient to bring 584 critical care and medical-surgical nurses from out of state to help overwhelmed hospitals. Health department Director Cara Christ said all the health systems that applied have been granted staffing support, and the health department will absorb the cost of added staff for up to six weeks.
  • Hospitals told the health department they have the ability to activate more beds but not without additional nursing staff. The department will deploy staff based on calls to the state’s surge line. Small rural hospitals with high transfers, along with large hospitals that accept a high number of transfers, will also be prioritized.
  • The state’s largest health system, Banner Health, told Healthcare Dive it’s bringing in 1,000 out-of-state nurses and respiratory therapists through staffing firm ProLink to help with COVID-19 patients. Banner also hired 49 per diem physicians and said it expects to hire 20 more.

Dive Insight:

Arizona health systems are tapping into state and federal resources for additional medical staff to help take care of an onslaught of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. It’s one of several southern states that reopened before others, leading to a rapid surge in positive cases and concern about overrun health systems.

During a Thursday press conference, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said COVID-like illnesses and positive tests are dropping, but ICU and hospital bed use is increasing.

However, the backlog of testing means the publicized numbers may not accurately reflect the current state of positive patients.

Eighty-nine percent of adult ICU beds in Arizona were in use Wednesday, according to the health department, though the state has 2,600 additional surge beds “which we have not had to use up until this point,” Ducey said.

Overwhelmed hospitals seeking additional staff must be operating in accordance with all state executive orders, provide expedited onboarding and orientation and have exhausted other existing avenues of increasing staffing, according to ADHS.

The health department also said 100 National Disaster Medical System personnel were sent by the federal government to help hospitals across the state, though Vice President Mike Pence said on July 1 it would receive 500 staffers.

A June report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the federal agency tasked with providing National Disaster Medical System personnel to Arizona doesn’t have enough staff. It’s the same agency in charge of maintaining the National Strategic Stockpile.

The agency’s staffing target of 6,290 responders fell short, with just 3,667 responders enrolled in NDMS as of December 2019, according to the report.​

It’s unclear if and when those 400 additional medical workers will be deployed. ADHS did not respond to requests for comment by time of publication.