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Florida Hospital Association: Less Than 8 Percent Of State's Critical Care Beds Remain Available

Juana Diaz, RN, COVID-19 ICU recalls an emotional event and how vaccination could prevent more like this happening. The Florida Hospital Association partnered with the Florida Medical Association to create public service announcements urging people to get vaccinated.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are continuing to spike in Florida. That’s putting a strain on the state’s healthcare resources. WFSU reporter Regan McCarthy spoke with Florida Hospital Association President and CEO Mary Mayhew about how hospitals are handling the pressure.

Q: As coronavirus cases are climbing in Florida, what are we seeing in hospitals?

A: “Over the last six weeks, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of COVID hospitalizations now exceeding over 17,000 individuals currently hospitalized for COVID. That compares to the previous highest peak throughout this pandemic of 10,200. And what we are seeing that is also dramatically different, is that it is younger individuals who are also being hospitalized—in their 20s, in their 30s, in their 40s. And they are for the large part individuals who are healthy whereas previously we would have seen individuals with underlying health conditions that contributed to their hospitalization for COVID."

Q: You’ve said many hospitals in the state are facing a potential critical staff shortage that could be coming within a matter of days. Are we still expecting that and what happens when that does come?

A: “We’ve had a healthcare workforce shortage here in Florida and frankly around the country that existed prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has exacerbated the shortage. This is truly a severe healthcare shortage and as our hospitals respond to the pandemic, over 75% of them have expressed that they are either currently or within the next seven days [will be] experiencing a critical staffing shortage. That means their ability to continue to admit patients will be significantly limited. That is a factor as we deal, not only with the significant COVID hospitalizations of over 17,000, but we are also seeing a much higher volume of critically ill non-COVID patients. It’s that combined pressure that’s putting such a strain on our capacity and the system. We have fewer than 14% of our beds available, less than 8% of our intensive care beds available. But hospitals are doing everything possible to respond, to hire staff, to redeploy staff to the bedside, to use cafeterias and auditoriums to convert those to patient care areas to respond to this demand."

Q: As we talk about hospitals filling up, are we facing a situation where a hospital would no longer be able to provide emergency care for people?

A: “Our hospitals are really sophisticated in their surge plans and their ability to adapt and to respond. Obviously one of the most significant challenges is the physical and mental exhaustion of our front line staff, our healthcare heroes, but they are absolutely focused on ensuring that trauma, individuals that urgently need emergency care, that will be available. But no doubt what everyone is seeing and experiencing are increased delays in the emergency departments because of the unprecedented volumes of patients that hospitals are working to care for and to do so efficiently and effectively. We do have hospitals that are no longer able to accept transfers of patients because of the bed availability. We are optimistic that there is a plateau of new cases on the horizon. When that happens, we will slowly start to see a decrease in the number of hospitalizations. But it is also why we continue to reinforce how critically important it is for people to get vaccinated. While that won’t protect immediately it will eventually and we know that over 90% of those who today are hospitalized for COVID are unvaccinated."

Q: You’ve said during this conversation that vaccines are the best tool to get this virus back to a more manageable level. What role do booster shots play in that?

A: “The booster shots are likely, and have always likely been, inevitable to just ensure that we have continued protection from this virus. And certainly, as we learn more about the virus that we are able to guard against and protect against [the virus] through the use of these boosters. So we’ve got a lot of work to do to continue to support the infrastructure to deploy the vaccines, make sure that they’re easily accessible, and now to support these booster shots."