2022 Updates from Arizona’s Health and Science Sectors

Lisa Van LooMarch 3, 2022
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2022 Check-Up

Updates and dispatches from Arizona’s health and science sectors.

Spotlight: Dr. Nina Lara

Dr. Nina Lara at OrthoArizona (orthoarizona.org) is a rarity – a female orthopedic spine surgeon. In many of the most training-intensive specialties, the percentage of women doctors languishes in the single digits. It’s likely even fewer took the unconventional path Lara did, pivoting from finance to minimally invasive spine surgery. We chatted with Lara about her journey.


Why did you choose this field?
I worked in banking for nine years before going to medical school. I volunteered at the CASS [Central Arizona Shelter Services] medical clinic once a month, and I just kind of fell in love with taking care of the homeless population. I changed my mind to pursue a career that was more fulfilling and rewarding. The rest is kind of history.

Why do you think more men are attracted to this field than women?
The complexity of the cases. The risk involved. The physicality of it. Some of the cases can be long, and you’re on your feet a lot. I feel like it’s exposure, as well. A lot of females are encouraged to go into specialties that are less demanding. I spend a lot of my time mentoring female orthopedic residents. I tell them it’s important to find a mentor and someone who believes in you.

We have to ask – who is your favorite fictional TV surgeon?
Miranda Bailey [Grey’s Anatomy]. She’s a boss. She’s a good surgeon, and she’s nice. That’s important to me.

AZ’s Depressed Mental Health

The state of mental health in America isn’t great. And in Arizona? It almost couldn’t be worse. Our state ranks 49 out of 51 (all states plus the District of Columbia) for its higher prevalence of mental illness and lower access to care. Here’s how we and other “bottom 10” states fared in three key metrics.


MLB Bros Launch Alzheimer’s Charity

Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Braden Bishop and his brother, Hunter Bishop – outfielder for the rival San Francisco Giants organization – lost their mom, Suzy, too soon. To honor her memory and her battle with Alzheimer’s disease following her diagnosis at 54, the two MLB players launched 4MOM Charity.

“My mom was such a selfless person who dedicated her life to our successes,” Braden Bishop (pictured in black shirt, with father Randy and brother Hunter) says. “The more we learned about the effects of Alzheimer’s, the more we felt we needed to make a difference not just for her, but for so many in the community who endure overwhelming challenges.”

The foundation aims to support caregivers and families facing the disease while raising funds and awareness.

“Through the Suzy Bishop Memorial Grant, we have been able to help others by assisting with living expenses, medical bills, certified nutritionists and any circumstances that arise,” Hunter Bishop says. “Although we’ve made significant strides in positively impacting the ALZ community, we believe we’re just getting started.” Learn more at 4mom.org.


Price Transparency Improving

Hospitals have been required to share their pricing online since January 2021 to make it easier for consumers to avoid surprise medical bills and better understand what their care will cost. Some are complying, some aren’t. According to Turquoise Health, which is tracking compliance across the country, Arizona as a whole ranks lower when it comes to compliance compared to other states. But, it’s improving.

“The story of 2021 is really a steady increase in compliance, with a big uptick in the summer after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services [CMS] announced the increased financial penalties,” says Chris Severn, CEO of Turquoise Health. “In the Arizona market, you have about eight health systems that make up half of the facilities, so naturally, you are going to see those players setting the precedent for compliance that others will follow.”

Early adopters include Mayo Clinic Hospital, AZ Spine & Joint Hospital, Tucson Medical Center, Verde Valley Medical Center and Copper Queen Community Hospital. Severn says compliance improved once penalties were increased, and resources (staffing, etc.) may have been an issue for some. However, he says data indicates most health-care systems that aren’t complying are doing so as a conscious choice. Each dot below represents a Valley hospital.


Workforce Crisis for Nursing Homes

Long-term care facilities, in Arizona and across the U.S., are experiencing a workforce crisis unlike anything they’ve ever encountered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report from the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, the long-term care industry has been hardest hit when it comes to job loss compared to other medical fields, losing an estimated 221,000 jobs since the onset of the pandemic.

Home health, outpatient care centers, physicians’ offices and hospitals have all nearly or fully recovered from pandemic job losses, while nursing homes and assisted living facilities are still struggling due to burnout and competition from new, better-paying opportunities in different sectors. Dave Voepel, CEO of the Arizona Health Care Association, says 73 percent of the state’s long-term care facilities are experiencing staffing shortages.

“We desperately need the help of policy makers to identify supplementary funding to help us meet this challenge,” he says.