Although health officials announced this week that Arizona has the worst coronavirus diagnoses rate in the country and is the “hot spot of the world,” Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center CEO Roland Knox said Thursday that the hospital “remains ready to care for all who come” to them for healthcare.

Knox responded to a series of questions posed to him by the Eastern Arizona Courier via email.

According to Knox, Mt. Graham is averaging 18 COVID-19 inpatients per day. The total inpatient average is 28 per day.

“We have been experiencing a surge since a few days after Thanksgiving that has not let up. We have a day or two now and again that we have fewer COVID patients being admitted but our average is staying high because the COVID patients we are caring for are sicker,” Knox said. “We do have a concern that another surge may come in the next few days after the New Year’s celebrations.”

As far as staffing, Knox said they’ve hired several per diem nurses and the State of Arizona has hired eight nurses to work at the hospital for the next two months. Four of the eight nurses are already working and the others will arrive within the next 10 days, he said.

“Our nursing staff levels are suitable to meet the need,” however the hospital is concerned because there is an industry shortage of respiratory therapists due to COVID-19 and it’s been difficult to hire additional staff, Knox said.

“Our respiratory therapist staff are shorthanded and pulling extra shifts,” he said.

“We transfer very few patients overall and specifically very few COVID patients. Most that we do transfer is because of underlying health conditions with their heart and lungs,” Knox said.

All COVID patients in Arizona that need to be transferred from one hospital to another are managed through the Arizona Surge Line, Knox said.

“Most of our patients are transferred to Tucson hospitals and secondly to Phoenix hospitals,” Knox said. “Space is limited for transfers to all hospitals for all types of patients.”

According to the State of Arizona, 60 percent of ventilators statewide were in use as of Wednesday. Knox said that on average, Mt. Graham has one COVID-19 patient on a ventilator.

“As I noted, the COVID patients are sicker, but we along with the healthcare industry have learned how to initially care for patients to reduce the number that need to be put on a ventilator,” he said.

Knox said he is proud of his staff.

“I want to note is the incredible care givers we have at MGRMC that continue to raise the standard of care for COVID patients as they learn and develop skill sets specific to COVID,” Knox said.

In the week of Dec. 31-Jan. 7, Graham County diagnosed another 421 people with COVID-19 and lost four patients. Roughly 1,200 of the county’s 3,600 patients are currently ill. Fifty-four patients have died since the first case was diagnosed in March.

Greenlee County has seen an increase of 50 patients Dec. 30-Jan. 6. Of the county’s 450 total cases, 159 residents are still sick and three have died.

The State of Arizona reported 66,172 new cases Dec. 31 — Jan. 7. During the same time frame, 1,023 Arizonans have died. More than 9,700 COVID-19 patients have died statewdie overall.

A record number of Arizonans were hospitalized as of Wednesday, 4,920, back in July at the first peak 3,517 were hospitalized. The number of people in ICU was 1,101 on Wednesday and of those, 776 were on ventilators.

Seven percent of Arizona’s ICU and inpatient beds were available Wednesday.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly 21 million Americans have caught the virus and 356,005 have died, 18,572 Dec. 30-Jan. 6.

Load comments