Staff at Arizona Banner Health facilities are strained as the spread of omicron COVID-19 continues

PHOENIX – The omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to strain staff at Banner Health facilities in Arizona, not only with unvaccinated patients filling beds, but also when healthcare workers contract the virus themselves. virus.

Dr. Marjorie Bessel, clinical director of the state’s largest health care network, told a news conference on Tuesday that the fallout from Arizona’s rise in omicron is worsening a nationwide shortage of medical workers.

“Similar to what we’ve seen in other parts of the pandemic, when the outbreak happens in the community, our own employees also get sick,” Bessel said. “So now we’re seeing an increase in our team members getting sick.”

She said Banner Health had to close some urgent care centers due to staff availability. As a result, Bessel said people are facing longer wait times in urgent care that remains open.

“We recommend that you check online to make sure the Banner Urgent Care center closest to you is open before you arrive and, if possible, schedule your appointment online to reduce your waiting time,” Bessel said.

“Please be kind and respectful to your healthcare workers as well. They have been under immense pressure over the past two years and especially during this latest wave. »

She asked people to assess the appropriate level of care for an illness or injury as hospitals continue to be filled with COVID-19 patients.

Nearly a third of inpatient beds at Banner hospitals are occupied by COVID or suspected COVID patients, Bessel said, with about 90% of those unvaccinated.

Banner has a blog that can help people decide whether to go to the ER, urgent care, or see their primary care doctor, in addition to an online symptom checker and a 24-hour nurse line. 24 hours.

Bessel said the network is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for when staff who test positive can return to work.

This includes allowing healthcare workers to return five days after a positive result if they are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

Other health care providers across the country are allowing workers infected with the virus to stay on the job if they have mild or no symptoms, including Dignity Health in Arizona.

Bessel said Banner Health has not done so at this time, but will continue to assess its response to the pandemic on a day-to-day basis.

Arizona reported more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases for the sixth straight day on Tuesday, according to the state health department’s dashboard, as Bessel said the state had no yet reached its omicron peak.

She said the peak would likely occur in the coming weeks and the number of cases and hospitalizations would also increase in the meantime.

Bessel said other countries that dealt with omicron before it became dominant in the United States saw a very rapid descent from the top.

“I’m sure it’s something everyone will be thrilled to see, including all of us who are in healthcare,” she said.

Bessel recommends people get vaccinated, and those who are already immune are given booster shots against the virus, in addition to wearing a properly fitted mask.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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