Yuma Regional Medical Center has reopened the COVID unit amid rising numbers of positive cases. The hospital says it’s ready for the second wave, which has already started and should peak around Christmas.

“We are seeing the second spike right now. We are seeing an increase in cases, that’s for sure,” said Dr. Robert Trenschel, president and CEO of YRMC.

The hospital learned a lot from the first wave and is applying those principles now, according to Trenschel.

During the first wave, YRMC had a peak of 170 and a low of two patients hospitalized with COVID-19. This past week the number of COVID patients hovered in the 50s, with 55 on Wednesday, the day of the interview. According to the latest information released by Yuma County, 52 patients were hospitalized Friday morning, with eight in intensive care. YRMC had 12 ventilators in use and 34 available as of Friday morning.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported that Yuma County had 232 new cases on Saturday for a total of 15,236 positive cases and 364 deaths. ADHS also reported 6,625.6 cases per 100,000 population; the number of people with a positive test result at 14.8%; and 158.73 fatalities per 100,000 population. The numbers are expected to continue to rise.

YRMC reopened the unit a week ago. “We’re reopening COVID-19 unit to cohort all those individuals together. We don’t want to spread them around,” Trenschel said.

While YRMC anticipated the second wave, hospital officials didn’t know when exactly it would happen. The numbers indicate that the second wave has started, however, Trenschel said that the hospital is “not overwhelmed by any stretch of the imagination. I remain very, very proud of the staff and the hospital with how we continue to respond well to COVID-19. Obviously, it’s a challenging environment.”

He added: “The Emergency Department is busy, but we don’t have a shortage of beds, we don’t have a shortage of nurses, we don’t have a shortage of PPE.”

Trenschel said Arizona anticipates a peak between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but he believes the peak will hit Yuma around Christmas or shortly after.

“We’ll remain ready,” he said, noting that the hospital supply of personal protective equipment and testing equipment is “very strong.”

YRMC first opened a unit dedicated to COVID patients on April 1, before the infection rate escalated in Yuma County, which occurred in the months of June and July. The hospital shut down the unit in early September, when the number of hospitalized patients dwindled. As of Friday, YRMC had discharged 1,185 COVID-19 patients.

The hospital is still using the Arizona Surge Line, a system developed by the state to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, “as we need it,” Trenschel said. The service lets hospitals know where beds are available around the state and directs the transfer of patients. YRMC transfers specific types of patients to other hospitals to keep beds open for community members who might need care not only for COVID-19 but also other health issues, such as heart attacks and diabetes crises.

As of Friday morning, YRMC had 169 Surge Line transfers. Whether YRMC uses the Surge Line depends on several factors, including how many patients come into the Emergency Department at the same time and the severity of a patient’s illness and the level of attention the patient requires.

The goal is “optimal care” and “sometimes we can’t get to somebody as timely or as quickly as we like,” Trenschel explained. “If we can send them somewhere where they can get more timely care, we’ll do that. But if we can’t, we’ll just treat them here, that’s no problem. We don’t have hard, set rules. It’s a function of what’s happening at that particular time.”

However, sometimes due to high winds, patients might not be flown out. “If that’s the case, we take care of them here,” he noted.

Machele Headington, vice president of marketing and communications, noted that a nursing team keeps a constant eye on the numbers and meets every four hours for a full capacity review. There’s also a monitor that shows everything happening in the organization, such as bed space and patients in the ED.

“It’s a constant, whether we’re in COVID or not. The practice is for ensuring we have patients in the right place, that we can project what’s coming,” Headington said.

Adding to the current challenge is the return of winter visitors. Trenschel noted that the season hit early this year, with winter visitors coming now when some normally return to Yuma after Thanksgiving and some after Christmas.

“We had to get seasonal workers earlier than usual, but they’re available, they like to come to Yuma. They enjoy the hospital, they enjoy the camaraderie they get from coworkers. They love the community, they’re very supportive,” Trenschel said.

Community support is a “key component” for keeping up staff morale and attracting seasonal workers. “That community support, while people may not think is important, is one of the most important that we could have for our staff, that community support and that outpouring of just good feeling,” he said, recalling the thank-you parade around the hospital that “brought tears to everybody’s’ eyes” and the thank-you notes that staff receive in appreciation of their hard work.

“So all that positivity that we can give to staff they certainly respond. It gives them more fuel to carry on to the future, because it’s a burden, they’re doing a lot of work,” Trenschel said.

“I’m proud of our staff, I’m proud of our hospital, I’m proud of everything that we’ve done in the response. I’m glad we’re able to be here for the community, and we’ll just continue to do the work that we do, high quality, safe care for the patients that come through our doors and we’ll always be here for the community,” he added.

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