Broward health officials address overcrowded hospitals as COVID-19 cases surge

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Broward County health officials held a workshop with county commissioners in Fort Lauderdale Friday to address their concerns over hospitals getting overcrowded with COVID-19 patients as coronavirus cases surge across South Florida.

“As of today, Broward County has a total of 26,709 cases of COVID-19, with the median age of 40,” Dr. Paula Thaqi, director of the Florida Department of Health in Broward County, said.

The rising new numbers of coronavirus cases are extremely concerning for two of the county’s largest hospitals, Broward Health Medical Center and Memorial Regional Hospital.

Dr. Leah A. Carpenter of Memorial Hospital West said, “Our hospital capacity is at about 89%, and our ICU capacity is beyond 100%. So what we’ve done is we’ve converted an entire central tower into negative pressure so that we can accommodate more COVID patients.”

Dr. Stanley Marks of Memorial Healthcare System said, “We’re seeing a much larger surge than we saw in that first surge that we saw in March, April. This surge is at a high level, at a higher rate, and we have no idea how long it’s going to last.”

Memorial Regional’s Dr. Aurelio Fernandez is even more concerned about the strain COVID-19 patients are putting on the system.

“We have seen a huge increase in volumes in our emergency departments over the last three days. Our numbers are much higher. We’ve seen an increase of 156% over April’s high,” he said.

Broward Health CEO Gino Santorio, isn’t as worried about the staggering increase in new cases yet.

“We’re hoping it starts to come down, because the increase in hospitalizations is definitely a concern. We can keep this up but not indefinitely. We hope that the ICU percentage continues to stay significantly lower than it was during the first surge, and even though that’s not a lag, we’ve already now been four weeks into the second surge, so we would’ve seen some of that,” he said.

Miami-Dade’s numbers in the last 24 hours are even higher: 2,380 cases have been reported compared to 1,603 in Broward and 25 in Monroe. The positivity rate of tests on Friday reached 28%, while ventilators skyrocketed 123%.

Dr. David De La Zerda, ICU Director of Jackson Memorial Hospital, said, “For now in Jackson Memorial, because it’s a big hospital, we have some capacity. Again, as Dr. Migoya mentioned last week, if we continue to see this amount of cases, we’re not going to have ICU beds by next week.”

Hospitals said it’s not just the space in their ICU departments they’re worried about but also their staff.

“We come for those beds,” Fernandez said. “We can convert the conference centers and auditoriums and then create field hospitals, but you cannot produce nurses overnight, so we are bringing nurses from outside the area.”

Fernandez added that the state is helping with the extra nurses.

Dr. Nicholas Namias of Jackson Memorial Hospital said, “Those patients now need COVID beds but they can’t go to a COVID ICU. They have to go to the specialty ICU where we’re having to create COVID beds.”

South Florida is now one of the hottest spots in the country for the virus, according to the CDC.

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