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Florida Hospitals Have Sufficient Capacity As Coronavirus Cases Surge, Officials Report

The hospital recently received FDA approval for a COVID-19 test similar to the CDC version and has been using it to get rapid results for high-risk patients.
Tampa General Hospital
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Though a state dashboard shows some hospitals are nearing capacity, Gov. Ron DeSantis and health care executives from around Florida said Friday there are more than enough hospital beds to deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Confusion over the over the dashboard, operated by Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration, caused reports about a lack of intensive care unit beds around the state as cases of the coronavirus rapidly multiply.

“Reports that somehow we are running out of hospital beds are incorrect, grossly exaggerated,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said during a roundtable discussion with DeSantis and hospital executives on Friday. “This is concerning, that the positive rate may be going up. That's why we're going to be cracking down on enforcement, but it's not alarming.”

DeSantis called the executives together to talk about hospital capacity in South Florida and across the state.

“We have twice as much capacity in the hospitals throughout the state of Florida today, than before the pandemic began,” DeSantis said.

The confusion occurred because the state’s dashboard does not provide the whole picture, officials said.

Hospitals provide the state with daily data about how many beds they are staffed to accommodate. And the dashboard does report a lack of beds at several hospitals around the state.

But hospitals frequently take unused beds offline, which will impact how their capacity is reported on the dashboard, according to a statement from AHCA.

And hospital officials said they have the ability to increase their beds and staff based on demand. The state dashboard does not reflect that capacity.

“Hospitals have the ability to convert beds and bring additional ICU beds online in a surge situation when necessary,” AHCA spokesman Patrick Manderfield said in a statement. “Within 48 hours, hospitals have the capability to dramatically increase statewide staffed capacity in the event of a surge situation.”

In the Tampa Bay area, spokespeople from major hospital groups including HCA, AdventHealth, Tampa General and BayCare told Health News Florida that the current surge in coronavirus cases is not putting them over capacity.

But the state’s dashboard showed that Hillsborough County hospitals only had 15% of their 418 intensive care unit beds available as of 5:30 p.m. Friday. In Pinellas County, the dashboard showed 59 of the county’s 328 beds were available.

But those numbers don't tell the whole story, Baycare spokeswoman Vjollca Hysenlika said in a statement.

“In almost all cases, hospitals’ maximum capacity is greater than any day’s staffed bed number and would be even greater still when the state allows hospitals to implement their approved surge response measures that can convert spaces for treating patients that are not normally used, such as a conference room,” Hysenlika said.

All of the hospital systems said they have emergency plans for a surge in COVID-19 cases that involve working with other health care systems in the area to accommodate overflow.

“All hospitals in the AdventHealth West Florida Division are closely and continuously monitoring positive COVID-19 cases in their facilities,” Mike Schultz, president and CEO of the west Florida division of AdventHealth said in a statement.

“We currently have sufficient personal protective equipment for our team members, patients and guests, as well as available patient beds, ICU beds and ventilators, should they be needed.  At this time, we are not experiencing a surge in patients who require hospitalization due to COVID-19.”

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.
Julio Ochoa
Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.
Alysia Cruz is the WUSF Stephen Noble news intern for the fall 2019 semester. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida in Communication and is now enrolled at USF St. Petersburg, pursuing her Master’s in Digital Journalism & Design concentrating on food writing.