Arizonans Kept From Loved Ones Deathbeds Testify In Favor of Senate Bill For That Right

Arizonans Kept From Loved Ones Deathbeds Testify In Favor of Senate Bill For That Right

By Corinne Murdock |

Of all that elected officials and bureaucrats took away these last two years of the pandemic, a loved one’s final “goodbyes” and “I love you’s” should’ve remained untouched. That much was made clear by Arizonans who came to testify in favor of SB1514, a bill to guarantee that patients have the right to visitation from a clergy member as well as two visitors at all times or their entire immediate family if health care providers determine that the patient will either die or lose consciousness within the next 24 hours. The bill would also prohibit health care institutions from preventing the patient from operating or possessing any communication device, and require them to pay damages of $20,000 and attorney’s fees and lawsuit costs per violation per patient.

Even with their testimonies, two senators voted against the bill in committee: State Senators Sally Ann Gonzales (D-Tucson) and Raquel Teran (D-Phoenix). The bill passed without their votes.

One man testifying in favor of the bill described how his 76-year-old father was hospitalized for mild flu-like symptoms out of caution. During his 17-day stay, the hospital prevented Kaiser or any other family members from visiting their father. Even after a doctor informed Kaiser that his father no longer had COVID-19, the hospital refused to allow visitation. Then, Kaiser recounted how his family received news suddenly that they would be permitted to see their father if they agreed to “comfort care” — when life support machines are turned off and drugs are administered to assist in a patient’s death. Kaiser noted that his father’s requests for certain treatments were denied, even the amount of vitamin C he was given: 500 milligrams, compared to the usual 1,000 when healthy and 2,000 to 3,000 when ill. The nurses told Kaiser that vitamin C wasn’t “protocol” and even health care administrators refused, rejecting Kaiser’s citations of medical studies with their own preferred studies. Kaiser noted that remdesivir, the protocol treatment, caused 60 percent of patients to experience adverse side effects like water in the lungs and organ damage. Only when they agreed to comfort care were they able to see their father. Kaiser said that the hospital’s treatment rendered his father’s physical condition “unrecognizable.”

“We learned that the same immutable adherence to protocol permeated all aspects of my father’s care. He had no effective agency [….] We were clearly beginning to see that each request was friction in a well-oiled assembly line. All requests were denied with similar responses, often followed by, ‘My hands are tied.’ While we were frequently in the care of very attentive and caring nurses, articulate and professional doctors, we quickly understood with each passing interaction that we as a family and my father as a patient had no agency in these walls. Gary had been relegated to a pre-defined and immutable protocol and felt very much like he was on a conveyor belt that, in the end, he was actually strapped to with physical restraints,” said the son. “I pray that my father won’t die in vain: that we will give patients and hospitals freedom of treatment and the ability to be with family and to die with dignity.”

One woman described how she and her husband promised each other to not take themselves or their children to the hospital because of what they’d heard — that people weren’t getting proper treatment and weren’t allowed visitors, even if they were dying. Their fears came true when her husband suffered severe pains that required an emergency room visit several weeks after having COVID-19. Nurses ignored the woman’s pleas to help her husband during his stay at the hospital, dismissing his complaints of pain — staff later determined after attempting a heart surgery that he suffered a heart attack three days earlier under their care. No staff noticed because nobody bothered to check his file. Yet, the woman recalled how staff jumped at the chance to ensure hospital policy was followed when it came to how many of their family could visit her husband shortly after his death.

“My husband was dead, my girls’ father just died, and I’m negotiating with these nurses over policies even they could not make sense of,” said the woman. “Who is being protected by these policies, by these protocols? Not my husband, not me. […] The doctors and nurses knew the medicine, but I knew the patient — better than they would. I knew his pain tolerance. I could’ve helped them. I could’ve alleviated some of their load while advocating for my husband, and he could still be here today.” 

The woman’s daughter also testified. She explained that the denial of visitation wasn’t just inhumane — it was contrary to the known medical impact of human touch, which can induce recovery and instill a will to live. 

“Why now are we taking away these important factors when people’s lives are on the line? When they, too, need an advocate and need loving touch and human connection to send messages to their brain that they’re safe, loved, and strong?” asked the daughter. 

Another woman described how her husband of 39 years was admitted last month for COVID-19. Within weeks, her husband’s condition declined rapidly and she was denied visitation. At one point, she explained that her husband recovered — however, within a few days, something went awry with her husband’s treatment and he declined again. She wasn’t able to intervene with what went awry because visitation policy kept her away. The doctors finally allowed the woman and her family to come say goodbye during her husband’s final moments, but would only admit two of their group to go into her husband’s room.

“If we could have only seen him, would he still be here with us today?” asked the woman. “This is heartbreaking and it’s got to stop after two years of this. Please. Please pass this.”

Another woman described how her husband has been hospitalized since mid-October, but hospitals won’t allow her children to see him. She lamented that another of her family hospitalized for COVID-19, her mother, likely would’ve survived her hospital stay had the health care administrators allowed them to choose their own treatments.

State Senator Kelly Townsend lamented what society sacrificed to feel “safe” from COVID-19. Townsend expressed hope that God would have mercy on the many who were merciless. 

“I have a hard time understanding the attitude of the hospitals who have seemingly abandoned all sense of ‘humankindness’ in the wake of COVID fear,” said Townsend. “They have violated ARS 36-1301 that says a person has a legal right to refuse service or choose the mode of health care by denying families and the patient any say in the management of care while in the hospital and at the end of life. Many are questioning the type of treatment received in the hospital, and have expressed fear to ever go back and trust their medical care to these hospitals. I must say, I do not blame them. We need a reassessment of who we are as Arizonans, as human beings. God forgive us.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Bill Would Require Health Care Entities, Insurers to Disclose Religious Denial Of Services

Bill Would Require Health Care Entities, Insurers to Disclose Religious Denial Of Services

By Corinne Murdock |

The “Patient’s Right to Know Act,” HB2196, would require both health care facilities to disclose any religious denial of services, and then require insurance providers to relay that information to their enrollees. The first half of the bill described how health care providers must offer a list of those services, while the second half described how insurance providers must give enrollees those services denied by the list of facilities within their network.

State Representative Pamela Powers Hannley (D-Tucson) introduced the bill. Others that sponsored the bill included Representatives Richard Andrade (D-Glendale), Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren (D-Red Mesa), Kelli Butler (D-Phoenix), Andrés Cano (D-Tucson), Andrea Dalessandro (D-Sahuarita), Brian Fernandez (D-Yuma), Sarah Liguori (D-Phoenix), Christopher Mathis (D-Tucson), Marcelino Quiñonez (D-Phoenix), Judy Schwiebert (D-Phoenix), Christian Solorio (D-Phoenix), and State Senator Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Sahuarita). 

The bill offered an expansive definition of religious beliefs to include philosophical beliefs or anything that deviates from the consensus within the health care community. The bill didn’t disclose how those “legal, peer-reviewed, or scientifically accepted standards” were determined. 

“‘Religious beliefs’ means any set of philosophical or religious beliefs, guidelines, decrees or directives or other instructions determining patient care that are not based on legal, peer-reviewed or scientifically accepted standards of health care and that may be imposed on a health care entity through employment or clinical privileges,” read the bill.

If passed, the bill would give health care facilities one year to come up with a complete list of services they don’t provide due to their religious services. They would also have to inform state and federal agencies that license or enroll facilities in reimbursement programs. 

Insurance providers, on the other hand, would have 18 months to comply. They would be helped along by another provision of the bill requiring health care facilities to give insurance providers a list of the denied services, and post that list online publicly. 

This is the sixth year in a row that Powers Hannley has brought forth her “Patient’s Right to Know Act.” Powers Hannley sits on the Health and Human Services Committee. According to Powers Hannley, the intent of her bill is to eradicate all influence of religious beliefs in the health care sector for good. 

In a blog post published a year before the infamous Capitol Hill riot and several months before the emergency state declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic — January 6, 2020 — Powers Hannley explained that she introduced the bill originally with abortion and birth control in mind. However, she began to envision other health care service denials, citing the denial of a hormone prescription to a transgender woman.

At the time, Powers Hannley characterized the increasing number of Catholic-owned hospitals as “very scary.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Governor Ducey Gives Hospitals Vaccine Mandate Power and $35.2 Million

Governor Ducey Gives Hospitals Vaccine Mandate Power and $35.2 Million

By Corinne Murdock |

Governor Doug Ducey carved out an exemption for hospitals in his renewed executive order addressing COVID-19 vaccine mandates (EO 2021-21), though it banned the state and all counties, cities, and towns from implementing any. Additionally, Ducey issued hospitals $35.2 million in grants to aid in staffing shortages. The $35.2 million meted out to $1.2 million in dialysis center support to Valleywise Health, $6 million for more beds, and $28 million to extend around 300 nursing staff contracts.

According to campaign finance records, Arizona’s hospitals did greatly support Ducey during both of his gubernatorial campaigns: Tenet Healthcare, West Valley Hospital, Carondelet Health, Honor Health, Maricopa Integrated Health System (now Valleywise Health), Banner Health, Dignity Health, and Yuma Regional Medical Center.

Health insurance giants also supported Ducey during his two campaigns: UnitedHealth, WellCare Health Plans, Cigna, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Makers and distributors of the COVID-19 vaccine had Ducey’s back as well: Pfizer and McKesson donated thousands to Ducey’s campaigns respectively. McKesson is a major distributor of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Ducey’s special advisor on vaccination efforts, Dr. Richard Carmona, was one of the latest additions to the distributor’s board. Carmona was appointed to the board about two weeks after Ducey announced him as an advisor to the state. 

12 News reported Carmona receives approximately $400 an hour from the state to promote the vaccine through Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS). For about two collective weeks of work, Carmona has earned over $35,000. ADHS spokespersons confirmed that Carmon will remain in his advisory role past the December 31 contract end date — possibly through 2022. 

The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AHA) thanked Ducey for this decision to reaffirm their mandating abilities. The AHA and its former president supported Ducey during both his runs for governor with thousands in donations. 

The funds follow $60 million allocated in September to aid in health care facility staffing for administering treatments to decrease COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

Arizona, like many other states, is facing a nursing shortage; their number determines the number of beds available for patients. Earlier this month, ADHS asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for staff who can aid in monoclonal antibody treatments at Banner Health, Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital, Banner Health Plus, Banner Estrella Medical Center, Valleywise Health Medical Center, Dignity Health Arizona General Hospital, and Abrazo Central Campus, as well as emergency support at Yuma Regional Medical Center and Canyon Vista Medical Center. 

ADHS confirmed the first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 last week in Yavapai County.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Governor Ducey Gives Hospitals Vaccine Mandate Power and $35.2 Million

Hospitals Continue To Threaten Staff Firings Despite Impact On Patient Care

By Terri Jo Neff |

If COVID-19 cases are trending down in 14 of Arizona’s 15 counties, as one public health doctor says, then why are some many hospitals in the state saying they don’t have room treat patients?

According to Dr. Joe K. Gerald, an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s Zuckerman College of Public Health, all but one county in Arizona reported lower numbers last week. The outlier was Greenlee County, which is “experiencing worsening outbreaks” and is nearing its all-time pandemic high infection rate, Gerald wrote for the Arizona Public Health Association.

But what cannot be reflect a positive COVID-19 test result (referred to as a case even if asymptomatic) or vaccination rates is what percent of people actually end up in the hospital.

According to Gerald, 2,050 of Arizona’s 8,747 general ward beds (23 percent) were assigned to COVID-19 patients as of Sept. 15, with another 695 beds available statewide for COVID-19 use. At the same time, 565 of Arizona’s 1,743 ICU beds (32 percent) were occupied by COVID-19 patients, with only 143 additional ICU beds available across the state for COVID-19 patients.

But even if infection rates continue to fall in upcoming weeks, Gerald believes COVID-19 related hospitalization occupancy by a percent of available beds will remain high “for several more weeks.” He also notes excess capacity is nearly as low now as it was at the peak of the winter 2020 / 2021 surge when 577 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospitals statewide.

The problem is that simply having an open bed in a room is not what qualifies as an available bed. The statistic means not only the bed, but also the appropriate equipment and staffing available to treat a COVID-19 patient.

A hospital administrator in southern Arizona told AZ Free News there have already been issues at smaller hospitals in ensuring available beds due to delays with replacing equipment. Conditions worsened when the Delta Variant uptick began in Arizona in July.

But the main issue, the administrator said, is that Arizona’s larger hospital chains,  including Banner, HonorHealth, and Mayo Clinic, are losing experienced medical staff due to mandated proof of vaccination from all staff regardless of position.

Those hospitals -mostly in Maricopa and Pima counties- often accept patients from smaller counties, whether it be COVID-19 patients or trauma patients. However, as many doctors and patients are learning, those options are drying up across the state.

Thousands of health professionals across Arizona are pushing back on the requirement, with many leaving voluntarily instead of waiting to be fired. The result is staffing shortages which in turn impacts the number of available beds not only to treat COVID-19 patients but also those in need of other emergency treatment and even non-emergency procedures.

Gerald, in his article for Arizona Public Health Association, noted that with hospitalizations already at above seasonal levels, hospital administrators need to be prepared for COVID-19 related occupancy to exceed 20 percent of all general ward beds and 25 percent of ICU beds in the near future..

He also noted that Arizona’s fatality rate due to COVID-19 has been staying below 300 a week since February 2021 after hitting an all-time weekly high of nearly 1,100 deaths the month before. That compares to the worse week last year when roughly 600 deaths were recorded as COVID-19 related during one week in mid-July 2020.

“It now appears unlikely that Arizona will reach 300 deaths per week. Instead, the peak should occur at 200 deaths or a bit more per week,” Gerald wrote.

Ducey Announces Additional $60 Million To Support Hospital Staffing, Monoclonal Antibody Treatments

Ducey Announces Additional $60 Million To Support Hospital Staffing, Monoclonal Antibody Treatments

PHOENIX — On Wednesday, Governor Doug Ducey announced $60 million to support staffing at health care facilities that deploy proven techniques to decrease COVID-19 related hospitalizations, including administering monoclonal antibody treatments and offering vaccination at discharge.

“Arizona’s health care professionals and all frontline workers are heroes, without a doubt,” said Governor Ducey. “We are working to make sure they have the resources they need. This funding opportunity will decrease stress on existing hospital staff, increase hiring opportunities and decrease the risk of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona. I’m grateful to all the nurses, doctors, first responders, frontline workers and everyone supporting and protecting our fellow Arizonans during this health emergency.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations represent a significantly lower proportion of hospital patients than in previous waves due largely to the deployment of vaccinations among the most vulnerable populations. Despite this, hospitals are experiencing higher numbers of patients than normal. This has led to staffing challenges as doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other health care providers are in high demand across the country and hiring costs for these needed professionals has increased dramatically. This funding will help ensure that Arizona hospitals can obtain temporary staff to assist and alleviate stress on existing staff.

“This latest COVID-19 surge has been challenging for health care workers,” said Linda Hunt, President and CEO of Dignity Health’s Southwest Division. “They are exhausted yet continue to step-up in the most heroic ways. The high volume of patients compounded by the shortage of doctors and nurses across the country is creating intense competition for a limited pool of nurses nationwide. I am grateful for Governor Ducey’s actions today to bring more health care workers to Arizona as we navigate through this latest surge. This effort will help provide the relief desperately needed for our most valued resource — our staff. The Governor recognizes and supports the needs of our health care workforce. We will continue to work together to find long-term solutions that sufficiently invests in a sustainable health care workforce for Arizona.”

Monoclonal antibodies are designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells, and the treatment can be used for mild to moderate COVID-19 patients. When administered early enough, this treatment can dramatically decrease the patient’s risk of developing severe COVID symptoms. Expanding the use of monoclonal antibody treatment will help decrease the rate of hospitalizations and help alleviate pressure on hospitals and staff.

Tucson Medical Center in January became the second treatment center nationwide solely focused on administering monoclonal antibodies to help patients avoid severe illness and hospitalization. The center’s temporary treatment program was successful, and according to the Arizona Republic in February:

“Since it opened earlier this month, the TMC center has infused 600 patients. None has had allergic reactions to the medication and anecdotally, about 1% have been admitted to the hospital, though actual outcome data is not yet available, said Mimi Coomler, the hospital’s chief operating officer.”

This funding will be administered by the Arizona Department of Health Services.