Yuma Regional Medical Center transferred a dozen COVID-19 patients to other hospitals, but officials say that it’s not because the hospital reached full capacity. Rather, officials said, the move is meant to keep more beds open in case of a “significant surge” in COVID-19 patients.

Yuma County is experiencing double-digit daily jumps in the number of COVID-19 positive cases, but a YRMC official emphasized on Wednesday that the hospital has a long way to go before reaching capacity.

The Yuma County Public Health District on Wednesday reported 838 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 13 deaths. It stated that 8,084 county residents have been tested and 58 patients were hospitalized.

On Wednesday, YRMC confirmed that 58 patients diagnosed with the virus were hospitalized, a total of 101 patients had been discharged, and 14 COVID-19 patients had died. When told the county had reported one less death, Machelle Headington, vice president of marketing and communications, told the Yuma Sun: “Fourteen is the correct number of deaths.”

In addition to the 159 patients that have been hospitalized, Headington pointed out that “many, many more have been treated in the emergency room” and discharged. She did not have a specific number but noted that “over 70 percent of those who come into the Emergency Department” have mild to moderate symptoms and are sent home to recover.

However, YRMC stressed on Wednesday that the hospital is nowhere near capacity. “It’s a long way to go before we get to that point,” Headington said.

Some Yuma residents became concerned when YRMC transferred patients to other hospitals in the state as part of the Arizona Surge Line, a system developed by the state to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

“It’s to facilitate transfers without having to go through the rigamarole,” explained Dr. Robert Trenschel, CEO and president of YRMC.

The service lets hospitals know where beds are available and directs the transfer of COVID-19 patients “without having to worry about any of the things we worry about in a normal transfer,” he noted.

YRMC has worked closely with Phoenix hospitals in the past but did not have established relationships with other hospitals around the state. In this case, the system facilitated the placement of the 12 Yuma patients who were transferred to Tucson and Maricopa hospitals.

However, Trenschel stressed, the patients were not transferred because YRMC had reached capacity. Rather, YRMC decided, after discussions with state officials, to transfer 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.

The 12 patients who were transferred all came from local nursing homes and the Arizona Department of Corrections prison in Yuma County. However, Trenschel could not say how many patients were from nursing homes and how many were prison inmates.

The idea is to keep the hospital from being overwhelmed with large groups of patients at the same time, according to Headington.

Treschel reiterated that YRMC still has plenty of beds for COVID-19 patients. “The ICU is busy right now, but we’re not at capacity by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We could most likely absorb all these patients, the nursing home patients and the Department of Corrections patients. Our concern is we don’t want to bring ourselves to full capacity knowing that the community is still out there that may need us.”

He added that YRMC is not on “diversion,” which means “the hospital is full and we can’t accept any more patients.”

YRMC has a COVID-19 Unit with 21 rooms, which can be doubled up for 42 beds. Currently, the rooms are each being occupied by one patient.

The hospital has 42 ICU beds, and 35 patients were in ICU beds as of Wednesday, leaving seven open beds. Only 19 of the ICU beds were being occupied by COVID-19 patients on Wednesday.

If YRMC needs more space, the hospital has an additional COVID unit on standby and can also use the preoperative unit, which has 15 beds, for COVID patients if needed. The Three West Wing is being used as the COVID Unit, and the Two West Wing , if opened, could provide another extra 36 rooms.

“We’re doing fine actually. From the bed perspective, we’re doing fine. From the nursing perspective, we’re doing fine,” Trenschel said.

YRMC recently needed two additional ICU nurses and could have requested the nurses through the Surge Line but instead opted to pull the nurses from a local agency. If YRMC also needs extra respiratory technicians, the hospital also prefers to use the local agency.

The hospital has a Registered Nurse Resource Deployment Command Center ready to be activated in case YRMC experiences a “significant surge” of COVID-19 patients and needs 10 or 15 nurses all at once. Specifically, the three-tiered plan includes 30 nurses trained to go into the ICU from other areas of the organization immediately “and not miss a beat from a quality clinical perspective,” Trenschel said.

“We haven’t come out of tier-zero this entire time,” he added. “Staff’s doing well. They’ve been holding up well for a long time. I’m proud of how our staff is reacting, how they’re doing, continuing to come up with ideas.”

YRMC is also doing well with personal protective equipment and ventilators. Headington noted that YRMC had 15 patients on ventilators on Wednesday and another 21 ventilators available. Also, the hospital has other portable ventilators that could be used if needed.

In addition, non-emergency and elective surgeries restarted at the beginning of May. They started off slow and are still picking up speed. Trenschel anticipates a return to a pre-COVID-19 surgery schedule by Monday.


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