‘Tripledemic’ Underscores Need for Larger Hospital

With hospital beds and children’s medicine in short supply, NAH’s Health and Wellness Village moves forward.

This new year, COVID-19 is sharing the headlines with the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), as hospital beds fill up, COVID deaths rise and children’s Tylenol, Advil and Motrin are difficult to find.

“All three viruses are going around. Flu in Coconino County is at a 1,800% increase from the five-year average,” said Fry’s Pharmacy Manager Ted Sawulski, RPh, of Flagstaff. “We’re seeing lots of flu, lots of RSV, COVID is at a medium level – it’s steady in the background – but that can always change at any time. In Maine, there’s the BQ.1 and the BQ.1.1, and I’m sure it will come our way one of these days.”

“This is really a hard time for children. We’ve had to turn away so many customers because our shelves have been completely empty of children’s pain and fever medicine,” said Mary Beth Koch, a certified pharmacy technician at Prescott Valley Safeway. “Even with regular medicine, people are having to wait on supplies, sometimes for a month at a time.”

pharmacist dr Sheri Wadhams, co-owner of Wadhams Apothecary in Flagstaff with manager Jane Blair, dispensed the last of her children’s Motrin on Friday, Dec. 23, and is currently unable to order any more, as wholesale distributors nationwide say it’s not available. “We can’t get certain antibiotics either. We are seeing a lot of sick people. Upper respiratory illnesses in children are going into pneumonia.”

“While we’ve been masked up for the last two years, especially the little ones, we’re not used to seeing the viruses,” said Sawulski. “Society is back in full swing and so are the germs.”

The viral pileup is impacting Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC), as well. “We are certainly feeling the pinch right now as those three viruses converge,” said Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH) Acting Chief Executive Officer Josh Tinkle. “Through the last 45 days, there’s been a dramatic increase in overall bed demand because of respiratory illnesses. One of the great things about the proposed new hospital is the ability to serve more patients.”

New Hospital in Regional Activity Center

With recent FMC patient levels soaring to heights not seen since the peak of the pandemic, hospital officials say over 5,500 patients have had to be deferred to other hospitals in the Phoenix area or Las Vegas in the last 12 months.

“The majority of those deferrals were not because they were patients we couldn’t take care of from a skill set or acuity perspective, it was because we didn’t have a bed for them,” said NAH Vice President of Construction and Real Estate Development Steven Eiss. “That’s one of the big driving forces for building a new hospital and planning for future growth expected over the next 50 years.”

Hence, the plan to build a new state-of-the-art hospital, about a third larger than FMC, an ambulatory care center and a premier Health and Wellness Village near Fort Tuthill has been working its way through the City of Flagstaff planning process . It emphasizes healthy lifestyles with space for doctors’ offices, gyms, health food stores, health-focused retail shops, health-centric dining, medical research and development space, a hotel, a housing component for permanent residents and possibly a shared nursing simulation lab in partnership with Northern Arizona University and Coconino Community College.

“When you look at health care from a holistic perspective, it’s not just caring for people when they are sick, it’s planning for overall health, vibrancy and job creation,” said Eiss. As a result, what was zoned as a Neighborhood Activity Center has been bumped up to a Regional Activity Center. “With that comes a more well-rounded approach to community wellness.”

Higher housing density

Minor amendments to Flagstaff’s Regional Plan have been approved through both the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council to accommodate the NAH plans. “We have a Regional Activity Center here for the future where we would expect to see a higher level of density and intensity of land uses, and larger residential and commercial projects located at intersections of key roadways, Beulah Blvd. and Woody Mountain Road,” said City of Flagstaff Zoning Code Manager Tiffany Antol.

The Regional Activity Center has been moved slightly to be directly located where the hospital will be, she says. NAH “changed the area type to the Employment Land Use category for future research and development and to further increase employment in Flagstaff. The first phase, around 58 acres, will be rezoned to be highly commercial and includes just over 31 acres for public facilities to support the open spaces within their development.”

“For the proposed hospital and ambulatory care center, not much has changed programmatically. We have made quite a few tweaks to the planning as far as the road network, layout and amenities as we continue to meet with various departments throughout the city, as well as address some of the concerns we’ve heard from the community,” said Eiss , who expects to break ground before the end of the year on the hospital and ambulatory care center, which is to include physician offices and outpatient services such as imaging, physical therapy, a lab and retail pharmacy. “The main changes include increased density for housing, from 177 units up to about 315.”

The Village’s multifamily housing component will be in the form of apartments or condominiums, intended to help ease Flagstaff’s housing shortage. NAH expects to reserve a small number of those for traveling staff members. The housing units and some retail space are expected to be built at the same time as the hospital.

Wellness partnerships

Meanwhile, NAH hopes to start attracting health and wellness partners for the Village later this year. “We would like to target a health-focused grocer, retail and restaurant, and a research and development partner to add economic vitality to the region,” said Eiss.

In addition, Tinkle says the new hospital facilities and equipment will allow for certain medical procedures that are not currently done at FMC, such as complex wound and hyperbaric treatment and advanced cardiothoracic surgeries. A comprehensive cancer center is also part of the plan.

Full build-out of the Health and Wellness Village is expected to continue into 2040 and is estimated to generate an additional $387 million per year in economic benefits for Flagstaff and Northern Arizona, as well as $4.5 million in annual tax revenue for local jurisdictions like the Flagstaff Unified School District and Coconino Community College.

“This is an opportunity for Northern Arizona to be a leader in how we deliver and experience health care,” said Tinkle. “This gives us the opportunity to create that experience to have people live their lives in a healthy way rather than in an ill way, and I think that’s what’s most exciting.” FBN

By Bonnie Stevens, FBN

See Bonnie Stevens’ interview with Pharmacist Ted Sawulski for more about the tripledemic on Zonie Living at

Courtesy Image: Northern Arizona Healthcare’s planned Health and Wellness Village, depicted in this rendering, is to be situated near Fort Tuthill and Flagstaff Airport, now zoned as a Regional Activity Center.

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