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Navy reinforcements help Valleywise Health amid health care worker shortage

Seven members of the Navy – five nurses, a respiratory technician and a doctor – have joined Valleywise Health Medical Center to support overburdened frontline health care workers, per a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The team will stay for a month.

“We continue to have a shortage of health care workers within the state of Arizona, certainly within Maricopa County, and this provides the much-needed relief that we need,” Dr. Michael White, Valleywise Health chief clinical officer, said at a news conference Tuesday at Valleywise Health Medical Center.

The Department of Defense has sent 30 medical teams across 18 states, including two to Arizona; the other is in Sierra Vista. Cronkite News has reached out to FEMA.

The Navy team helping Valleywise Health has hit the ground running, said Lt. j.g. Lillian Jentz, who’s a nurse.

“As of Friday, our team has become fully operational and remains trained and ready to assist providing COVID-19 relief and patient care alongside civilian medical partners,” Jentz said.

White said Valleywise continues to see high volumes of patients – including those not suffering from COVID-19 – so the Navy reinforcements allow his staff to recharge and prepare to see new patients.

Michael Murphy, the Valleywise public information officer, said Navy personnel have helped out in the ICU with COVID and non-COVID patients.

Since the COVID-19 in Arizona peaked at the beginning of January 2022, reported COVID-19 infections have decreased significantly, according to Maricopa County Public Health Department. White said that has allowed Valleywise to reduce the number of COVID-19 cohorts from four to two – one that’s being used as an ICU and one used for non-intensive care patients.

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“We are down to 26 (COVID-19) patients within the medical center this morning,” White said. “Earlier in this month of January, in the early part of February, we were upwards of 80 patients.”

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Alex Gould/Cronkite News

Navy Cmdr. Russell Miller speaks to the news media outside Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Miller is the commander in charge of the seven Navy medical personnel joining frontline workers at the hospital.