Florida hospitals begin postponing elective surgeries as another record set for COVID daily admissions

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As the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida rose to an all-time high on Wednesday, the state’s hospital systems started making plans to suspend elective procedures.

Memorial Healthcare System announced Wednesday its five South Broward hospitals will suspend elective medical procedures starting Aug. 9 “to conserve critical resources for the care of COVID-19 patients.”

“The current surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida has led to daily hospitalization rates not seen since the major spike last summer,” the hospital system announced in a written statement. Memorial had 526 COVID patients admitted as of Aug. 3, up from about 400 only three days prior. Memorial’s has seen non-stop people arriving with symptoms of the virus in the emergency departments at its hospitals, according to nursing managers.

Memorial’s hospitals will continue to treat patients who need emergency care for non-COVID reasons, and the rehabilitation and cancer centers remain open.

Across the state, hospitals are reporting record COVID admissions as the Delta variant of the virus continues to spread. There were 12,408 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida on Wednesday, breaking the state’s COVID hospitalization record for the third day in a row, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. About a fifth of those hospitalized — 2,494 people — are in intensive care, occupying nearly 39% of Florida’s ICU hospital beds.

In Palm Beach County, Baptist’s Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Bethesda East and Bethesda West hospitals, are postponing elective surgeries on an individual basis.

“We will communicate directly with any patient whose surgery or procedure may need to be rescheduled,” said Michael Maucker, communications director.

Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Weston hospital has postponed some elective procedures. The hospital has had a 400% increase in COVID patients in the last month ― 68 as of Wednesday, up from 12 four weeks ago.

“While we have not suspended surgeries outright,” said Dr. Scott Ross, chief medical officer in Weston, “there have been some non-emergent, non-cancer surgeries that have been rescheduled to keep beds and staff available due to the recent increase in COVID patients.”

Broward Health suspended inpatient elective procedures within its Broward Health North hospital in Deerfield Beach, reducing them to outpatient only. Broward Health Medical Center, Broward Health Coral Springs and Broward Health Imperial Point will continue elective surgeries.

In other parts of the state, hospitals and health systems such as Health First in Rockledge, Baptist Health in Jacksonville, BayCare Health System in Clearwater and Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, postponed or limited non-emergency surgeries earlier this month as COVID-19 admissions rose, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

The UF Health Jacksonville hospital also has canceled elective surgeries after the number of COVID-19 patients at its hospital increased to record admission levels. In addition, AdventHealth Wesley Chapel, part of Altamonte Springs-based AdventHealth, also announced it will temporarily postpone some elective procedures.

On Wednesday, during a virtual roundtable of hospital CEOs led by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Orlando Health CEO David Strong said he is optimistic that the current wave will taper off soon. Strong said his health system has had about 500 COVID patients for the last few days.

“If you look at the models in UK and Netherlands, the peak went up rapidly and fell very quickly. We are hoping the same thing occurs here,” Strong said.

Jackson CEO Carlos Migoya said South Florida hospitals continue to see patients stream into their emergency departments. “The spike is strong, the last few days it moved up. We are four weeks in,” he said. “Last summer’s surge lasted six weeks to the peak. We are saying one to three weeks more, but who knows? We are preparing for the worst.”

Justin Senior, chief executive officer for the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, said all Florida hospitals are cautiously watching their capacity, unsure of how much higher admissions will go. “Suspending elective surgeries frees up a lot of capacity and helps to make sure staff does not get overtaxed,” he said.

Senior said elective procedures likely would be postponed only for about four to eight weeks.

“The spike is strong … We are four weeks in. Last summer’s surge lasted six weeks to the peak. We are saying one to three weeks more, but who knows? We are preparing for the worst.”

Jackson CEO Carlos Migoya

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Hospital leaders told DeSantis said a big challenge is having enough staff to care for sick patients, a factor playing a role in the suspension of elective surgeries. Some health systems noted during the round table that they already have brought in temporary nurses through staffing agencies.

Juana Meija, nurse manager of the ICU at Memorial Hospital Miramar, has been working seven days a week.

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“It has been stressful and exhausting, physically and mentally,” she said “I have been a nurse for over 30 years and I have never experienced anything at this magnitude.”

During the round table Wednesday, Simone Marstiller, Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, the state agency responsible for licensing health care facilities and sharing of health care data, said if any health system needs to expand outside the area in which they have licensed beds “you all have the flexibility to do that.” Some South Florida hospitals already have been converting auditoriums and conference rooms into COVID wards or patient care spaces.

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com.

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