Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida can help. Our responsibility is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

With Three Hospitals — One Temporary — Do Keys Have Capacity For COVID?

Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West has seven isolation beds, but also an empty section that could be converted for COVID-19 care.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

So far, Monroe County has only seen a few cases of COVID-19 — three cases by the 6 p.m. Tuesday update. But the 100-mile-long island chain only has three hospitals — and one of them is a temporary facility while a new one is built to replace the building destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

WLRN depends on donors to remain South Florida’s leading nonprofit, most trusted source of news and information. Support our mission by giving monthly as a sustaining member of Friends of WLRN or make a one-time donation of your choice. Thank you. Click here to give.

Medical and health representatives in the Keys say the county is prepared to handle COVID-19.

Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West has seven isolation rooms. But if the hospital that serves the Lower Keys sees an influx of COVID-19 patients, it has some options, said Dr. Jack Norris, the hospital's chief of staff.

"We have a unit that we're not operating at the moment just based on volume. That unit will be converted in an area for COVID patients," he said. The extra ward could house about 30 patients, he said.

Baptist Health System owns Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon and Mariners Hospital in Tavernier. In an email, Baptist Communications Director Georgi Pipkin said Mariners has eight intensive care beds and both hospitals have an electronic ICU, which uses telemedicine to treat critical cases.

She also said patients requiring specialized care would be taken to Baptist hospitals on the mainland.

Bob Eadie, administrator for the state Health Department in Monroe, said hospital capacity is not his top concern for the Keys.

"The issue with capacity that I'm thinking about is our medical providers," he said. "Our doctors and nurses and PAs and nurse practitioners — we only have a finite number of them here."

Monroe County's Trauma Star air ambulance will not transport patients with COVID. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office said they can't protect the flight crew and cleaning the helicopter afterwards would take it out of service for too long.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.