/ Modified dec 18, 2020 4:41 p.m.

Banner-Phoenix morgue overflows with COVID-19 dead

Hospital calls on refrigerated trucks as the pandemic grows.

Banner University Medicine hospital emergency sign A sign outside the east entrance to Banner University Medicine directing visitors and patients to the emergency room.
AC Swedbergh/AZPM

In another sign of how the COVID-19 pandemic is stressing medical care facilities, the state's largest health care provider has started renting refrigerator trucks because it's running out of space in its morgues.

"One of these trucks is currently in use at Banner-University Medical Center Phoenix and another is at a Banner storage facility on standby," said Banner Health’s chief clinical officer, Dr. Marjorie Bessel, during a news conference Friday.

Bessel says the company is working to hire the final 300 employees it needs to respond to the pandemic, on top of 2,000 Banner has added to its staff recently.

Bessel says all health care providers in Arizona are struggling to avoid having to enact the state's triage protocols, in which medical care must be rationed because of scare resources.

"We sincerely hope to not get there. We want to continue to provide care to all those who need it, and we are doing everything within our power to prevent a triage situation," Bessel said.

The state reports more than 3,900 people are hospitalized due to the coronavirus, and 93% of the state's regular and intensive care beds are occupied. Bessel and other health officials say the real limiting factor may be the supply of medical staff, rather than hospital beds or rooms.

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