Hospitals keep eyes on ICU bed capacity as coronavirus cases surge

As hospitals monitor admissions and COVID-19 cases, they are also watching their ICU bed count.

The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) oversees Medicaid in the state of Florida.  According to the agency's website, there are ICU  beds available in Central Florida, but hospitals are keeping a close eye on the situation as coronavirus cases soar.

"You’re seeing everyone who has regular healthcare problems plus COVID-19 so it just doubles the impact. That’s the real concern," said Orlando-area family physician Dr. Jason Littleton.

According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, right now Brevard, Lake, Orange, and Volusia counties have more than 11% of their ICU beds available. It's a different story in Osceola and Seminole counties.

In Seminole, there are only five beds available. Seminole County Emergency Management Director Alan Harris said they are extremely busy, but there are still places to place ICU patients. He released this statement saying in part, "They will modify things to take care of patients.  When the occupancy level gets higher, it will be more and more challenging."

Dr. Littleton cautioned, "If the spike increases, that’s going to be an issue. It wasn’t before."

According to Orlando Health, as patient volume declined in mid-March, they consolidated units to reduce ICU beds. AHCA lists Orlando Health with two available beds in Lake and three in Orange, but an Orlando Health spokesperson said what appears on the website is not their total bed capacity

"We have nearly 3,300 beds. Nearly 200 of those are ICU beds and we have the capacity to surge up to 500 ICU beds if it becomes necessary," read a statement from a spokesperson with Orlando Health.

Orlando Health is monitoring increases in COVID-19 cases, and if they need additional beds, adjustments will be made to meet the needs of the community and beds added. For physicians like Dr Littleton, it’s a relief.

"Hospitals are prepared for this in general. They will disseminate entire floors just for COVID-19."

He said it's important to see what happens by Labor Day and if the cases decrease. Both AdventHealth and HCA Healthcare said they too can add additional beds.

"If you're not sure which hospital to go to, call your doctor or even the E.R. and they will guide you," Dr. Littleton added.

Orlando Health statement in full:

"In mid-March, as patient volumes declined and fewer beds were needed, Orlando Health began consolidating units to reduce the number of beds – including ICU beds – that were staffed and in operation. The current operational bed count is what we report to AHCA and what appears on their website. That number is not Orlando Health’s total bed capacity.  Across all of our operations, we have nearly 3,300 beds. Nearly 200 of those are ICU beds and we have the capacity to surge up to 500 ICU beds if it becomes necessary. We are carefully monitoring the increases in patient volumes. If the need for additional beds grows, Orlando Health will re-open units and make other necessary adjustments in order to meet the needs of the community.

"Statement from HCA Healthcare: Dr. Sean Benoit, Chief Medical Officer at Central Florida Regional Hospital gave us the following information regarding the HCA Healthcare Central Florida hospitals, which include Central Florida Regional Hospital, Osceola Regional Medical Center, Oviedo Medical Center, and Poinciana Medical Center. “First and foremost, we want our community to know that they should never delay care in a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room if you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of a medical emergency. Our ERs are safe places to receive care and proactively engaged in the safe management of both COVID-19 and non COVID-19 health concerns.

"Bed capacity is a fluctuating figure, depending on the care needed by our patients on any given day, and our HCA Healthcare hospitals in Central Florida, including Central Florida Regional Hospital, Osceola Regional Medical Center, Oviedo Medical Center, and Poinciana Medical Center, have been prepared for months to respond to the impacts of COVID-19. We are able to respond to surges in patient volumes quickly by repurposing clinical spaces, such as outpatient departments and pre- and post-surgical care areas, to expand ICU capacity and create additional bed space. We also have access to the resources, support and best practices across HCA Healthcare, including staffing, equipment and supplies, such as PPE and ventilators, that are needed to care for our patients. Additionally, we work closely with our federal, state and local partners to stay up-to-date on the latest information and guidance. We have implemented several measures to safely and effectively care for patients experiencing both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 health concerns. Our focus on enhanced safety precautions, such as universal masking, help us to ensure the protection of our patients, colleagues and visitors.

"Central Florida is fortunate to have access to a large network of healthcare providers who are in constant communication and support of each other during times like these. We also encourage Central Florida residents to follow their community guidelines for maintaining physical distance, washing and sanitizing hands, and wearing face coverings to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”