PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Gov. Doug Ducey ordered a stop to all elective surgeries in Arizona in an effort to alleviate a shortage of surgical masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment, known as PPE.
The move comes after Vice President Mike Pence pleaded with governors across the country to cancel such non-essential surgical procedures during a conference call on Thursday afternoon. The Arizona hospital chains, which responded to questions from CBS 5 Investigates, stated they are not currently experiencing a shortage of PPE. A spokesperson for Banner stated that the company does have a shortage of hand sanitizer, but is working on a solution.
But emails and phone calls from employees of some of the Valley's largest hospitals indicate there is a shortage.
"It's affecting Arizona immensely," said Joy Wolfe, MD, who is a family physician in Ahwatukee.
She says she has heard from medical workers across the Phoenix area, who say they are being told to ration PPE, and in some cases, wash and reuse disposable items.
"None of that equipment was ever made for reuse. They're disposable and they're disposable for a reason," said Wolfe. "The whole purpose of that is to minimize infection," she said.
But while the hospitals appear to be conserving PPE, the Valley's large number of surgical centers have been burning through the equipment. Surgical centers often perform elective surgeries, which include facelifts, joint replacement and other pre-scheduled surgeries. According to surgical schedules and memos obtained by CBS 5 Investigates, many of those centers were performing elective surgeries as recently as Thursday.
But at 5:05 pm on Thursday, Gov. Ducey announced the ban on elective procedures. The proclamation "halts all elective surgeries in the state of Arizona to free up medical resources and maintain the capacity for hospitals and providers to continue offering vital services."
"This will help keep critical personal protective equipment (PPE) available for the fight against COVID-19," according to the proclamation.
It is unclear whether or when the makers of PPE will be able to fill the high demand across the country, as more cases of COVID-19 require healthcare providers to use more caution and more PPE.
The Trump administration eased health regulations, which will allow medical workers to use masks currently used in the construction industry. The material is similar, but the intended use and design are different.