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Arizona Dept. of Health says it reported incorrect number of available hospital beds amid pandemic

Arizona Dept. of Health says it reported incorrect number of available hospital beds amid pandemic
Posted at 6:33 AM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 09:33:42-04

Arizona's state health director said Saturday that her staff made errors and have reported the incorrect number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations on the Arizona Department of Health Services coronavirus dashboard since April.

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) has been overreporting the number of hospital beds currently available and in use in Arizona due to staff members' confusion about the hospitals' licensed bed capacity and surge capacity.

The department made changes to the coronavirus data dashboard Saturday.

"When we found that, we were like we need to correct that because that's not right," said Dr. Cara Christ, the Director of the ADHS.

Public concerns grew this week about Arizona hospital capacity as the dashboard reflected both record numbers of hospitalized coronavirus patients and total hospital inpatient loads at 87 percent of capacity.

Christ explained that since April 8, hospitals had reported to ADHS their "surge" bed capacity, which they could expand to in order to handle a large influx of coronavirus patients. That included more than 600 ICU beds and 2,200 general inpatient beds.

ADHS employees included these numbers in both total bed capacity and "in use" beds. The department has now removed the surge capacity figures entirely and is only reporting licensed bed capacity.

"We were adding the additional surge beds as filled beds," Christ said.

"The stakes are really high to make these kinds of errors," said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of ADHS. "This is particularly important because it's the data that rolls up into the policy decisions that get made. Perhaps we need some additional oversight."

Christ said the dashboard changes were made after data validation discussions with hospitals over the last few days. A spokesman for the governor's office said both the hospitals and ADHS officials agree the current format is the most "appropriate and accurate way" to reflect hospital bed availability.

With the revised figures, Arizona hospitals are at 76 percent capacity for ICU beds and 80 percent capacity for inpatient beds.

As of Friday evening, hospitals reported 5,714 filled inpatient beds, including 1,278 coronavirus patients, and hospitals said 1,198 ICU beds were filled, including 391 coronavirus patients, according to ADHS.

As of Friday, 22 percent of inpatients and 33 percent of ICU patients had COVID-19 or were suspected of having the virus.

This story was originally published by Garrett Archer and Melissa Blasius on KNXV in Phoenix.