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YRMC leaders assure community hospital is able to manage rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations

Health professionals from Yavapai Regional Medical Center administer tests for the coronavirus (COVID-19) on Saturday, May 2, 2020, as part of the governor’s blitz testing. (Jesse Bertel/Courier, file)

Health professionals from Yavapai Regional Medical Center administer tests for the coronavirus (COVID-19) on Saturday, May 2, 2020, as part of the governor’s blitz testing. (Jesse Bertel/Courier, file)

Yavapai Regional Medical Center leaders want to make it clear that despite the spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations it is still more than able to manage care for other patient illnesses on its two campuses.

And they expect to be able to do so even as flu season is expected to coincide with the pandemic crisis.

In an hour-long telephone interview this past week, hospital Chief Experience Officer Keith Nichols said the hospital has been operating at about 80% to 85% capacity — the average at hospitals across the state in recent weeks. COVID-19 cases have proved a “tipping point” for an already busy summer season of hospitalizations for assorted other ailments, Nichols and other YRMC officials confirmed.

As of Thursday, July 2, YRMC is reported to have 30 COVID-19 patients on the west campus and two such hospitalizations on the east campus with six others under investigation. The Prescott VA, which in recent months has sent some of its more severe cases to YRMC, now reports three hospitalizations.

The COVID-19 pandemic does require constant surveillance and operational management to make certain those patients are kept separated from those suffering other illnesses or recuperating from surgery, Nichols said. The Emergency Department teams play a key role in that evaluation process, he said.

YRMC offers a wide range of medical and surgical care for the community, including open-heart surgery.

In these precarious times for medical providers, the YRMC physician and administrative management teams work together on a daily basis — often more than once a day — to ensure they can meet the demands with the hospital’s trademark professionalism, Nichols said.

“We’re blessed to have the capacity to continue … to stay ahead of the game,” Nichols said of the hospital licensed for 140 beds on the west campus and 73 on the east campus with the feasibility of adding 40 more on the west campus and 20 more on the east campus if that was necessary though “we prefer not to get to that point.”

COVID-19 CARE

YRMC operates with “hospitalists,” or physicians who specialize in caring for patients in a hospital setting, explained Dr. Albert Caccavale, medical director for those YRMC physicians. Since the arrival of COVID-19 in the community, Caccavale said physicians and their medical teams are divided between those caring for COVID-19 patients and those caring for the rest of the patient load.

So far, Caccavale said the patient demand has not exceeded availability of those teams. If those numbers, continue to spike beyond what the hospital deems suitable for patient/physician and staff ratios, Caccavale said they would assign other doctors.

As for the care patients require, Caccavale said his teams rely on their expertise to manage symptoms and interventions deemed suitable for a particular patient’s condition. Though there are “nuances” with this virus for which there is no vaccine or curative treatment, Caccavale said physicians dedicated to these patients are constantly reviewing the latest protocols and “implementing those as appropriate.”

The Prescott demographic tends toward older adults and senior citizens, and so Nichols and YRMC physicians said that is the population most impacted by this virus, with cases ranging from so severe they require intensive care, ventilation and stays of several weeks to those with less serious symptoms and progression that allow the patient to recuperate at home after a few days in the hospital.

“We will always handle what comes our way,” Caccavale emphasized.

COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS

YRMC is taking precautions when it comes to elective surgeries and procedures, with out-patient surgeries and procedures less of a concern than those that might require hospitalization, officials said.

State guidelines suggest hospitals over 80% capacity impose restrictions on medical care that is safe to postpone, they said.

“We’re not implementing a one-size-fits all (policy),” said Ken Boush, the hospital’s director of marketing and communications. “We are following medical necessity.”

COVID-19 PREPARATIONS

Looking ahead, Dr. William Lockwood, an infectious disease specialist, said it is hard to predict how Arizona’s case load will evolve. Certainly, right now, he said it is in an escalation mode. Prognostication related to the outbreak is less the hospital’s role than that of national, state and local public health leaders, he noted.

“Our goal is to identify patients and treat them, and treat those who don’t have COVID-19 as well,” Lockwood said.

As for the spike in COVID-19 cases as flu season approaches, Lockwood said that trajectory is equally hard to predict.

“We don’t know how flu will influence COVID-19 or how COVID-19 will influence the influenza virus,” Lockwood said.

Yavapai County Community Health Services promotes flu vaccines every season.

Though the vaccine doesn’t inoculate against COVID-19 it can reduce chance of an infection that could make someone more susceptible to the no-vaccine virus.

COVID-19 PRECAUTIONS

“This disease doesn’t spread itself,” Boush said of community precautions to halt the spread. “Our belief here is that you should wear a mask if you can’t practice physical distancing. Wash hands.

“Take some self-responsibility so you are not somebody who is spreading disease.”

Boush’s advice: “Live your normal life, responsibly.”

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.

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