BISBEE, Ariz. (KGUN) — A Southern Arizona County of nearly 126,000 has been tackling the pandemic in its own unique way.
To date, there have been more than 7,873 cases in Cochise County with 136 deaths and that count continues to grow daily.
Inside Copper Queen Community Hospital's rural in-patient unit, health care workers explain they are exhausted. They are working 12-hour shifts with no end in sight treating COVID-19 patients.
Dressed in full PPE with a small team of no more than six at a time, the in-patient unit has had to switch gears quickly.
“We've become a miniature ICU here with patients on the high heat, high flow oxygen [and] sometimes we have to intubate them,” said Dawn Goad, the med surge tele-manager.
Goad said at the beginning of the pandemic this wasn’t the case. COVID-19 patients didn’t begin filling their fourteen beds until the summer.
“Typically our nurses have two to three patients apiece and here recently they have anywhere from five to seven patients apiece,” said Goad.
While in the 14-bed in-patient unit, about half of those patients are battling COVID-19. But inside the emergency rooms in both Bisbee and Douglas, there was an average of 46 COVID patients per day in December and even more in November at 55 per day.
Behind one of those numbers is Frank, he’s spent more than two weeks inside the in-patient unit.
"I wouldn't wish this on nobody. I consider myself lucky that they just have me on oxygen. I realized there are other people that are probably going through a lot worse,” said Frank.
Frank drove 40 minutes for care from Douglas and can only see his family through his hospital window.
It’s a similar story for many other patients who make the drive from St. David or other areas in Cochise County.
“They end up getting a lot worse, and then we have to ship them out instead of being able to take care of them more quickly when they're first sick,” explained Goad.
She said shipping patients out using the surge line is the hardest.
“Sometimes we've had patients in the either in the emergency room or here on our floor for hours to a day before they're able to get to a facility because either the beds are full or we don't have the transportation to get them where they need to go,” she said.
She said patients have gone as far as five hours away to Kingman and Sun city because patients can’t get into Tucson hospitals. Goad said the hospital does have numbers for hospitals out of state just in case they need to use them.
“The other thing is that the surge line now does for us that we didn't have before, is if a patient has been transferred to a facility, such as Sun City, they will now provide transportation for that patient to come back to home," said Goad.
That means at times those patients would have to drive more than 300 miles back to Southern Arizona.
While the nurses in Bisbee are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have to treat their small but tight-knit border community, they are finding themselves falling to COVID-19 as well.
“They're exhausted, they don't get to take a lot of break breaks and so they tend to get dehydrated. So, it's very difficult and it lowers our immune system,” said Goad.
The State of Arizona is sending some extra hands to help out at the Bisbee hospital.