One of the largest hospital systems in South Florida said its facilities are nearing capacity as the region’s COVID-19 crisis continued to escalate on Thursday, filling hospital beds and further straining doctors and nurses who have been caring for patients since March.
At Baptist Health South Florida, which has six hospitals in Miami-Dade, two in Monroe and three in Palm Beach counties, the pace of new patient admissions for the virus is testing the healthcare system’s limits even after administrators recently postponed non-emergency surgeries.
“Most of our hospitals are at capacity but we’re able to manage the capacity for now,” said Bo Boulenger, chief operating officer for Baptist Health. “We are seeing a very high rate of people needing to be admitted to our hospitals because of the virus. It is double the admission rate during the peak in early April.”
Boulenger said Baptist Health had 618 patients with COVID-19 staying overnight at the healthcare system’s 11 hospitals on Thursday, including 111 patients in the ICU. The hospital system has also discharged just over 2,100 COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.
Across Miami-Dade County, hospitals reported 1,748 coronavirus patients in beds, including 363 in intensive care and 190 on ventilators — with all of those numbers nearly doubled from two weeks ago.
The Florida Department of Health, which has confirmed 55,961 cases in Miami-Dade to date, said the rate of positive results out of all tests reported for the county on Thursday reached 26% — a new high reflecting the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
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Florida’s recent surge in cases has begun to produce an uptick in deaths, with the state health department announcing that a record 120 people died from COVID-19 on Thursday. Even before that high water mark, the trend of daily deaths reported by the state had begun to rise at a rate not seen since early May, when South Florida was still under lockdown.
An 11-year-old child in Broward was among those reported dead from the disease on Thursday by the health department, even as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to say that the state’s public schools would reopen in August.
This week in Miami-Dade, Mayor Carlos Gimenez rolled back the reopening of restaurants and other businesses in an effort to stop more infections.
At Baptist Health, Boulenger said the hospital system has signed a contract with an outside staffing agency and expects to receive 100 nurses from out of state within the next seven days. Boulenger said he also expects about 96 additional nurses to graduate from Baptist Health’s training program this month.
Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System, the state’s largest public hospital system, has faced similar staffing demands as its three hospitals swell with COVID-19 patients and doctors and nurses grapple with COVID patients, which have more than tripled in number since Memorial Day weekend.
Jackson Health reported 329 patients with COVID-19 on Thursday. Many of the hospital system’s patients coming in for other emergency care, such as appendicitis and child labor, have tested positive for the virus.
This week, DeSantis said the state would dispatch 100 nurses to Jackson Health after CEO Carlos Migoya asked for help.
Don Steigman, chief operating officer for Jackson Health, said the reinforcements from the state would help the hospital system care for patients while also relieving overworked nurses.
“At this point, our biggest challenge is staffing,” he said at a press conference in Miami with DeSantis on Tuesday. “And with the addition of these 100 nurses, this will help us to continue to grow the [patient] census if needed, from a safety perspective, and then also what it does is it allows our nurses right now that have been on the front lines since March, to have some additional relief and some additional assistance.”
Baptist Health has managed capacity by transferring patients between its hospitals and restricting surgeries that can be postponed safely, Boulenger said, though the healthcare system continues to admit patients with emergency medical needs, from heart attacks to broken bones and cancer care.
Unlike the earlier outbreak and hospital surge in the spring, Boulenger said, the patients are younger and end up on ventilators less often, meaning they are treated with high-flow oxygen rather than mechanical ventilation. The younger patients generally stay in the hospital for shorter lengths of time, he added. Migoya has said Jackson also has had a similar experience with COVID patients.
Like all hospitals in South Florida, Baptist Health is more limited by the availability of staff to care for patients than it is by the number of open beds. COVID-19 patients require nurses and other healthcare workers to wear additional protective gear, such as respirators, face masks, gowns and gloves, and the most severely ill need around-the-clock care.
“The limiting factor for us is people,” Boulenger said. “Our people have been at this since March. ... It’s very physically taxing taking care of these patients.”