Northern Arizona Healthcare acquires aircraft for transporting patients off reservation
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — As the Arizona National Guard arrived in Tuba City and Chinle last week to help medical providers tend to the increasing number of COVID-19 patients on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations, Northern Arizona Healthcare joined the cause by acquiring a fixed-wing aircraft to bring the most critical patients to treatment at Flagstaff Medical Center and other locations in the Phoenix valley.
As the only Level I trauma center in Northern Arizona, Flagstaff Medical Center is receiving critical ill COVID-19 patients from around the region. The aircraft, stationed in Winslow, is expected to ease the transfer of those patients.
With Flagstaff Medical Center at near capacity in its intensive care unit, intensivists and nursing staff are seeing some relief as more stable patients are now being transported to southern Arizona as part of a statewide-COVID-19 transfer center.
“That aim is to help distribute these patients across all available critical care beds across the state,” said Josh Tinkle, chief administrative officer at Flagstaff Medical Center.
Currently Flagstaff Medical Center is seeing a lower capacity of patients than usual, but the intensive care unit is hovering at capacity each day with 42 of 68 beds filled April 9.
“It is not normal for us to have this many patients on ventilators that are requiring the prolonged amount of ventilation they are requiring,” he said.
Although staff from Flagstaff Medical Center joined a team of medical providers to assess the medical situation in Tuba City and Chinle last week, the hospital was unable to leave any staff on site because of the urgent need in Flagstaff.
“Honestly, we need our staff here right now, especially our intensivists,” said Flo Spyrow, chief executive officer for Northern Arizona Healthcare. “What we are finding is the patients that are needing to be transferred are the ones that are ventilated, so we need that staff here to treat.”
Spyrow said Northern Arizona Healthcare is also assisting medical providers on the tribal reservations with resterilization of personal protective equipment and determining ways to support patients without transporting.
The organization said Flagstaff Medical Center is working with county and state officials about the potential for a field hospital in Flagstaff and on the Navajo reservation if cases continue to rise.
“This would be a lower acuity area, for example patients are well enough to get out of the hospital but not well enough to go home,” said John Mougin, chief quality officer at Flagstaff Medical Center.
The total number of positive COVID-19 tests is 698 on the Navajo Nation as of April 11, an increase of 101 since April 10, according to the Navajo Department of Health. There are now a total of 24 confirmed deaths on the Navajo Nation.
Over the next few days, Navajo Area HIS facilities and tribally operated health care center will begin receiving rapid test kits which will allow COVID-19 test results within just a few minutes.
“Quicker test results will likely result in even higher numbers of positive cases, but it will help to identify those who have the virus and begin to mitigate the cases much quicker,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
The Navajo Nation implemented a 57-hour curfew last weekend to help slow the spread of the virus.