‘We don’t know where the peak is’: ERs fill with patients as COVID cases surge in Jacksonville

Hospital representative concerned people are not going to get the care they need

Hospital representative concerned people are not going to get the care they need

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – No end in sight: That’s what doctors and health officials say about the latest surge in COVID-19 cases in Jacksonville.

UF Health Jacksonville has opened another area for COVID-19 patients as more and more people head to the hospital for treatment.

“It is getting tight. Every day, we’re opening up a new unit,” said Chad Neilsen, UF Health Jacksonville director of accreditation and infection prevention. “We’ve maxed out our latest unit, so we’re making preparations to open a new unit.”

As of Monday, UF Health Jacksonville had 175 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, 50 of whom were in the intensive care unit. That’s an increase of 14 hospitalized COVID-19 patients since Sunday.

“We’re way past our worst point in January, and we don’t know where the peak is in this. Some of our projections are showing August or September, so we are still several weeks out, potentially, from a peak,” Neilsen said. “That’s not just us. That’s across town.”

Amid the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Jacksonville immunologist Dr. Sunil Joshi on Monday called for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency.

“Is it time for Governor to declare a state of emergency/public health emergency in Florida regarding COVID-19 hospitalizations with what we are seeing here? Yes. So we can get some federal help and maybe some extra staff to assist in the hospitals? Yes. This is serious folks,” Joshi wrote

On Monday, Baptist Health had 386 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and 82 in the ICU -- up 22 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and down one in the ICU from Sunday.

News4Jax learned Saturday that Baptist Health opened 20 additional beds in a care expansion unit at Baptist South.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted Monday evening that his staff continues to collaborate with local hospitals.

All facilities in Jacksonville are nearly full after a spike in COVID-19 cases beings many to the hospital.

News4Jax has seen and heard about ERs across the city being filled with patients. Over the weekend, News4Jax heard reports of wait times to see a doctor being five to six hours for some people.

“Staffing becomes a really big issue for us,” Neilsen said. “We have people holding down in the emergency department because we either don’t have staffing in the beds upstairs for them or we don’t have room for them elsewhere.”

UF Health Jacksonville told News4Jax on Sunday that wait times are fluctuating and, at times, longer than usual.

On Monday, News4Jax went to several ERs, including the one at UF Health Jacksonville, where there have been patients waiting for hours. The concern there is those who need help may end up leaving.

“At any given time, we have several dozen patients who are waiting for beds upstairs and have to be admitted and we don’t have them. We’re seeing people, unfortunately, coming and going out of our EDs (emergency departments) without being seen because wait times are starting to increase across the city actually,” Neilsen said. “So we are really scared people are not going to get the care they actually need because we are so packed with COVID patients.”

Outside Baptist Medical Center, News4Jax on Monday spoke with a woman who said she was having severe stomach problems and, after waiting for five hours, gave up and left to go home.

“Too many people, not enough places to sit,” said the woman, who did not wish to be named. “I am not going to sit there anymore. It’s too uncomfortable. I am already uncomfortable.”

Baptist Health told News4Jax on Monday that wait times change throughout the day, saying in a statement:

“A patient having an actual emergency such as a heart attack or stroke will be seen right away. Someone suffering from a less critical condition may require a longer wait time, depending on the number of patients at the facility and their conditions. If people are experiencing an emergency, they should get to an ER ASAP. Wait times also change throughout the day in each of our 8 locations.”

Ascension St. Vincent’s said in a statement Monday that it has seen a rise in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, which can lead to longer wait times:

“The health and safety of our patients and community remains our top priority.

“The number of hospitalized patients and ER wait times fluctuate frequently, so any individual data points are only a moment-in-time snapshot and do not accurately tell the full story. Like other local facilities have indicated, we have seen a notable increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in our facilities, which can lead to longer wait times. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to safely treat all who come to us for care.

“We cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated. We believe the approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh any identified risks or side effects.

“Everyone in our community plays a critical role in keeping us safe from this virus. The most effective way of protecting each other is to get vaccinated and ensure your loved ones are vaccinated.”

Memorial Hospital said people can check its website, where wait times for its ERs are listed.

Hospital staff said the most important thing to note is ERs are open and, if there is an emergency, go and don’t delay, but be prepared to wait if it’s not life-threatening.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.