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Keys Watching Hospital Capacity Closely As Cases Rise On Island Chain

Lower Keys Medical Center is the only hospital in Key West.
Mark Hedden
Lower Keys Medical Center is the only hospital in Key West.

The reason the Florida Keys are wary of COVID-19 — and put up a checkpoint keeping visitors out for more than two months — has always been the same: the limited hospital capacity on the island chain. As the numbers of coronavirus cases rise, that capacity is becoming an increasing concern.

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Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West is licensed for 118 beds at its main facility. But it's only got staffing for 80, Monroe Department of Health Administrator Bob Eadie said on an emergency management conference call this week.

On the same call, LKMC Assistant CEO Jimmy Bass said there were 11 beds available with their current staffing. Five of those beds were in intensive care.

Hospital officials say that number is a snapshot and is always changing. And if the hospital starts seeing more COVID-19 cases, they could add more staff under contract. But the problem then becomes finding housing for those contractors.

Hospital officials say they could also expand to use beds at the dePoo Medical Building, a separate facility they manage that's now used for behavioral health patients.

Lower Keys Medical Center is the only hospital in Key West and one of only three in the Keys. Mariners Hospital in the Upper Keys is licensed for 25 beds. Fishermen's, in Marathon, is a temporary facility with only four beds. The old hospital was destroyed in Hurricane Irma almost three years ago, and a new one is under construction.

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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.