Gov. DeSantis defends Florida’s hospital, ICU capacity as COVID-19 cases surge

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the state’s hospital and intensive care unit capacity on Tuesday, saying recent criticism has been inaccurate.

Intensive care unit capacity data from the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which is constantly being updated, on July 15 reported that 54 hospitals with adult intensive care units were at full capacity.

DeSantis offered several explanations for the numbers, all in support of his statement that the state has sufficient ICU capacity.

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“The bigger picture item is this morning’s census is that statewide 24 percent of the hospital beds in the state of Florida are empty, that’s over 14,000 hospital beds and about 20 percent of the ICU beds are empty and that’s over 1,000 ICU beds,” DeSantis said during a press conference.

He added that the state has a lot of rural communities and hospitals that have zero ICU capacity under any circumstances. However, the total (54 hospital figure) from the state report was calculated among hospitals that specifically listed adult ICU capacity.

Further, the governor explained that a number of hospitals are part of a larger system that could offer increased ICU bed capacity systemwide if needed.

“In Miami-Dade, for example, which is obviously seeing the most hospital admissions in the state of Florida, they have almost 18 percent of all their beds are available, which is about 1,500 beds as of this morning and then they have 15 percent of the ICU beds available,” he said.

DeSantis explained that hospitals typically want to run ICUs at 88 to 90 percent full, explaining there is no need to staff something if it won’t be in use. “An ICU is not a fixed product, if there’s expanded need then they can expand those types of services…” he said.

The governor continued in saying Palm Beach has 30 percent of beds available, with 25 percent of ICU beds available. “There is capacity, obviously to deal with COVID, but it’s also important to note, COVID-19 is just a fraction of what these hospitals are doing everyday.”

The governor voiced concern that people with pressing health issues other than COVID-19 have been deferring care out of fear of contracting the virus at the hospital, but also because “people just assumed there was no capacity for people other than COVID which is absolutely not true.”

The governor continued by saying hospitals’ census overall has been “relatively stable.”

If anything, DeSantis said the health care system voiced concerns over staffing. While virus infection and then necessary self-quarantine could leave hospitals short-handed on staff, the governor also said there is a “natural reduction in staff that typically occurs” around this season.

DeSantis said the state already deployed hundreds of medical personnel to areas in need and that they will deploy up to 1,400 more in the near future.

Also, the governor discussed 25 “COVID-only nursing facilities,” where Florida hospitals can send long-term care residents positive for the virus yet still in medically stable condition as a means to avoid spreading infection in nursing homes.

On Monday, the statewide percent positivity rate was at 13.6 percent. Last week, Fox 35 Orlando ran an investigation into Florida laboratories after finding “astronomical numbers” in positivity ratings.

Across Florida, there have been over 369,000 cases of COVID-19. The virus has killed more than 5,200 Floridians and there are still 21,780 people hospitalized due to coronavirus in the state.

Mary C. Mayhewis, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, reaffirmed DeSantis’ statements about adequate hospital capacity during the press conference, as did Lindy Kennedy, president and CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.

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