ICU availability dropping in Northeast Florida counties

Some medical facilities are preparing to stretch their ICU resources to the limit

As COVID-19 cases surge, many area hospitals’ intensive care units are full or near full.

One of them is Baptist Medical Center Nassau, which had no available ICU space as of Monday evening, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration. By Tuesday afternoon, one ICU bed had become available there, but across Northeast Florida, ICU availability was low.

Percentages as of 4:17 p.m. Tuesday:

CountyAvailable adult ICU %
Duval County18%
St. Johns County36%
Clay County8%
Nassau County13%
Putnam County0%

The coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on area hospitals and health care staff since the disease surged in the United States. Now, with cases soaring, some medical facilities are preparing to stretch their ICU resources to the limit.

“So, right now, we’ve broken our high number of COVID hospitalized patients in one day,” said Chad Neilsen, UF Health Jacksonville director of accreditation and infection prevention. “We’ve soared past that number, the city of Jacksonville right now has matched their peak for COVID hospitalizations that we saw back in July.”

Neilsen said UF Health Jacksonville is preparing for an even bigger peak in cases than what has been seen in the last 12 months.

“Turning on the lights in units, making sure that we have that surge capability if and when that time comes,” Neilsen said. “We have to assume it will just based on what the numbers and the data looks like. And so when it does occur, we’ll be ready.”

If a hospital’s ICU space is filled up, Neilsen said, staff will look around for other hospitals in the area that might have available space. Doctors can also consider moving certain patients that might be able to be taken care of in other parts of the hospital. Also, larger hospitals can temporarily convert some existing space into an ICU if more is needed.

But while urban hospitals have these options, not all rural hospitals do.

“Rural hospitals typically don’t have those kind of capacities. They don’t have the space. And more importantly, they don’t have the staff, because we can create beds, we can’t create nurses and doctors overnight,” Neilsen said. “So the capacity for beds is always an issue, but the staffing needs tend to be the biggest concern there.”

A spokesperson for Putnam Community Medical Center told News4Jax that over the last few weeks, they’ve seen an increase in patients for a variety of health concerns, including COVID-19.

“We continue to be under normal operations with adequate bed capacity, staffing and supplies to care for all potential and current patients at Putnam Community Medical Center,” the spokesperson said in an email Tuesday.

The spokesperson also noted bed capacity is a fluctuating figure.

“Our internal operational processes are established to address any potential surge in patients, including those caused by COVID-19,” the spokesperson went on to say. “Additionally, our colleagues are experienced in providing safe care to both COVID-19 patients as well as our patients requiring other healthcare needs.”

Health experts said there are two things you can do to help keep ICU and hospital staff from being overloaded. First, get a flu vaccine, which will cut down on the number of patients going to the hospitals for that reason. Second, continue following the health guidelines, including wearing a face mask, keeping your distance from others when possible and wash your hands often.

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