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Health News Florida

Field Hospitals Not An Answer In Florida COVID Surge

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Statewide, 21 percent of the hospital beds were empty Tuesday, and about 17 percent of adult intensive-care unit beds were empty.

As Florida hospitals face a surge in patients with COVID-19, they may not be able to rely on field hospitals to provide more space. And hurricanes are the reason.

Florida Division of Emergency Management communications director Jason Mahon told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday that the state is focusing efforts on expanding hospital surge capacity and not on creating alternate sites to accommodate any overflows of patients.

“Over the past several months, the state has worked continuously with local officials to monitor the need for resources to support area hospitals. At this time, mobile field hospitals consisting of tents may not be the best resource to deploy during hurricane season,” Mahon said. “Instead, our primary support strategy is to surge staff into existing facilities -- opening up additional capacity in those hospitals.”

While the Division of Emergency Management all but ruled out using alternate sites to treat patients, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees on Tuesday twice avoided discussing whether Florida would turn to field hospitals as the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to increase.

During a conference call of health care executives, Amit Rastogi, CEO of Jupiter Medical Center, was the first to ask Rivkees about field hospitals and bed capacity and whether that information would be included in the state emergency status system. 

“We are looking to the hospitals for guidance,” Rivkees, who serves as secretary of the Florida Department of Health, said.

Florida reported 9,194 additional COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 291,629.  Nationwide, the total was 3,355,457.

Statewide, 21 percent of the hospital beds were empty Tuesday, and about 17 percent of adult intensive-care unit beds were empty.

Alternate care sites often are opened with assistance from the federal government, whether it’s the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Hospitals can also open alternate care sites under a broad Medicaid waiver the Trump administration authorized that allows facilities to expand their footprints beyond traditional buildings.

Florida announced in March that the state would  open up field hospitals or alternate care sites in Broward, Miami-Dade and Lee counties, as well as in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach. All the facilities closed without caring for patients except for a 450-bed facility at the Miami Beach Convention Center, according to the state.

Rivkees and other health officials in the DeSantis administration have had weekly phone calls with the hospital and nursing-home industries during the COVID-19 pandemic to help explain policies to providers.

Unhappy with Rivkees’ response Tuesday to Rastogi about field hospitals, another South Florida hospital executive, who did not identify himself on the phone, pressed for an answer about whether Florida was going to have alternate care sites. But Rivkees avoided answering the question.

Frustrated, the South Florida hospital executive said, “I think the answer to the question is the state does not have a plan at this point for opening up alternate care centers.”

Meanwhile at a news conference Tuesday in Miami with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Jackson Health System CEO Carlos Migoya said 33 percent of the patients in his hospital were COVID-19 positive. 

And despite increases in the numbers of patients being hospitalized with COVID-19, Migoya said the facility has been able to keep the overall patient census stable by taking steps such as eliminating elective inpatient surgical procedures.

“We’re comfortable that the next several weeks we can continue to do this, but we can’t do this forever,” Migoya said.