'Right on the edge': COVID-19 surge leaves clinics short-staffed

By Katherine Davis-Young
Published: Thursday, January 6, 2022 - 3:21pm
Updated: Friday, January 7, 2022 - 10:04am

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Mountain Park Health
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
Mountain Park Health Center has been providing COVID-19 vaccines to patients at its clinics for several months.

Community health clinics that serve Maryvale, south Phoenix and other lower income communities in the Valley are facing staffing shortages as COVID-19 cases spike. 

Mountain Park Health Center CEO Dr. John Swagert said 80 critical staff members at his clinics have had to isolate after testing positive for the virus this week.

“We’re right on the edge," Swagert told KJZZ News. "If we get more sick employees than that calling off with COVID, we’ll likely have to start making some adjustments.” 

Swagert said Mountain Park Health Center requires employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and 99% of workers are in compliance. But he said the extremely infectious omicron variant has caused a dozens of breakthrough cases among the nonprofit's personnel. 

The omicron variant continues to drive a surge in cases statewide. Arizona is now averaging more than 8,000 new infections per day and hospitals in the state are near capacity. Staffing shortages at Mountain Park Health Center come at a time when the clinics were already having to redirect staff away from routine care roles to assist with a surge of patients coming in with COVID-19 symptoms, Swagert said. Swagert said more than 30% of recent tests his clinics have performed for patients have turned up positive — far higher than in previous waves of the pandemic. 

"We're doing a lot of testing, a lot of reassurance, and a lot of explanation and education about what would prompt them to seek a higher level of care or go to the emergency room," Swagert said. "Most of what we try to do is keep people out of the emergency room as much as possible to keep the pressure off the hospitals." 

So far, Swagert said clinics have been able to meet the demand from walk-in patients, but he worries about what will happen as cases continue to climb. 

"We're in for a rough few weeks," Swagert said. "Our main concern is going to be making sure we can keep our clinics open." 

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