(SS) Intensive care units in South Florida are filling up with coronavirus patients as hospital admissions push relentlessly upward.
Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines reported only two of 40 adult ICU beds left Tuesday, according to state records. Memorial Hospital Miramar reported none available, with all 18 occupied. At Broward Health North in Deerfield Beach, just one of 32 beds was available. Baptist Hospital of Miami reported only six beds of 88 remain.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, said hospitals across the state had “abundant capacity,” but he and his agencies have yet to publicly reveal how many hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients. Instead, the state has released only the broader number of patients hospitalized for all causes.
A spokeswoman for the governor had promised the information would be made public, but at a news conference Tuesday in Miami the governor ducked a question on why this still hasn’t been done. He said the state had made plenty of data available.
“If you look, this report is something that you get — I get it every day from the Department of Health,” he said, holding up the state’s daily public COVID-19 report. “Obviously not everything is presented in this report, but just an unbelievable amount of data that’s available for folks.”
The ICU situation across South Florida was not completely dire, since many hospitals retained significant numbers of beds. But the trend has been steadily upward, and hospitals are taking steps to free up beds and prepare for even greater strains from the soaring numbers of new cases reported over the past two weeks. Memorial, for example, converted an auditorium and other interior spaces to patient care areas.
“We are actively extending capacity in a safe, effective manner to respond to this pandemic,” said Stanley Marks, chief medical officer of Memorial Healthcare System. “We have instituted tents outside the emergency departments of our hospitals to triage patients who have symptoms.”
Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, chairwoman of the Epidemiology Department of Florida International University, said the issues of bed capacity and staffing were “very concerning” as the virus continues to surge through the state.
"I think the numbers are going to continue to be really high for the next couple of weeks," said Trepka, who has studied hospitalizations from coronavirus in South Florida. "So I think we're going to see more hospitalizations going forward over the next couple weeks.”
“They do seem to have additional capacity in terms of backup. For example, they can take ventilators from operating rooms and repurpose them,” she said. “But there are other issues, like staffing. Not everybody knows how to use a ventilator.”
Concerned that additional coronavirus patients could overwhelm strained resources and staff, hospitals are taking steps to free up space and staffers’ time.
Memorial, which had already cut back on elective surgeries, announced Tuesday it would stop all “elective, non-urgent and non-emergency procedures,” starting Wednesday. Emergency surgeries and outpatient diagnostic procedures would continue.
About 100 nurses and other medical personnel will be sent by the state to Jackson Health to help Miami’s public hospital system cope with the surge of coronavirus cases.
DeSantis announced the decision Tuesday at a news conference in Miami, as the state posted another 7,347 cases and the highest positivity rate — 20.8% — since the beginning of the epidemic.
“I think that will be something that will be very useful for them as they continue to deal not only with COVID patients, but also non-COVID patients,” DeSantis said. “So we’re happy to be able to be supportive, and we’re standing by to do more as circumstances warrant.”
Jackson Memorial Hospital, the system’s largest institution, has seen its resources stressed during the surge in COVID-19 cases, with the percentage of available intensive care beds falling to 9% Tuesday, according to state records. Jackson has stopped performing non-urgent procedures to free up space.
Don Steigman, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Jackson Health System, said the additional 100 professionals would address the system's most important issue, which wasn't capacity.
“Our biggest challenge is staffing,” he said.
The hospital system said most of the nurses will be able to treat patients in the ICU.
“Jackson has been aggressively hiring to keep up with the demand, but staffing has become a top challenge,” the health system said in a written statement. “We have hired more than 80 nurses in the last two weeks, who we expect will be on board, trained, and seeing patients within 30 days.”
Of the 23 hospitals reporting in Broward County, seven reported ICUs at 90% capacity or more. Of the 17 reporting in Palm Beach County, there were two. Of the 34 reporting in Miami-Dade County, there were 10.
Although individual hospitals may be running out of ICU beds, South Florida counties retain a safety margin. Broward has 15% of beds available, with Memorial Regional, one of the largest hospitals, retaining 21 open beds of 56 total. Miami-Dade has 16%, with Mt. Sinai Medical Center of Miami Beach still retaining 38 open ICU beds of 109. The situation is more favorable in Palm Beach County, where 24% of 432 beds remain open.
But even in Palm Beach County, the trend in coronavirus use remains upward. The percentage of ICU beds occupied by coronavirus patients rose from 18% two weeks ago to 29% on Monday, according to records from Palm Beach County.
Baptist Health is another group experiencing strain on its South Florida hospitals, with several ICUs at 90% to 100% capacity. A spokesman for Baptist Health said its hospitals have made plans to increase capacity if needed.
“We have seen the number of patients seeking care related to COVID-19 continue to increase, and our hospitals are very busy,” said David Zarco, spokesman for Baptist Health South Florida. “Some of our hospitals are at full or nearly full capacity, as reported to the state each day. We have surge plans in place that allow us to increase our bed capacity; and with 10 hospitals in our system, we have the ability to move patients and staff across our organization to help manage our volume.”