Florida hospitals more worried about staffing than space as COVID cases surge

A lot of focus has been put onto the number of available ICU beds as the number of Florida's COVID-19 cases continues to rise. Hospital staff now warn the number of beds is not the problem. It's staffing they're worried about.

Doctors Sarasota Memorial and Manatee Memorial hospitals say the typical age of patients was 70s - 80s but now they're in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Monday, Sarasota Memorial Hospital reported having 78 COVID-19 patients --16 in the ICU and 12 on ventilators. 

"It is a concern of overwhelming the system. We have 100 ventilators. We’ve got the capacity to significantly increase the ICU beds. And the question is, what staff do we have," said Dr. Kirk Voelker, the critical care specialist at SMH. 

In Pinellas County, commissioners say some hospitals are asking the state to request more staffing, which is already happening in Miami, where Governor DeSantis is sending 100 nurses to help.

It's not so much bed space that hospitals are worried about; it's the staff to take care of patients. 

RELATED: Over 7,300 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Tuesday; 63 new deaths

"This is the low season right now for hospitals in terms of staffing. Usually, the higher season is flu season so they're looking at ways to utilize staff," Governor DeSantis said in a news conference Tuesday.

One of the ways they're utilizing staffing is postponing elective surgeries.

The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System joined a growing list of hospitals suspending elective procedures.

"We are seeing an increase in demand for testing, outpatient care, and inpatient services due to COVID-19. In order to meet these demands, we will be suspending all non-acute surgical procedures," a spokesperson said in an internal email sent to patients Monday and later obtained by FOX 13.

As the governor explained, hospitals are still dealing with non-COVID-19 patients, too.

Regardless of the reason for the patient's visit, he or she must be tested and that's clogging up resources. While a positive test may not be the reason for hospitalization, the patient's stay still requires procedures, protocols, and resources to minimize their risk to others.

Many hospitals in Florida have a plan to expand ICU space if needed. Manatee Memorial Hospital says they have 39 COVID-positive patients now, and they have plans in place to expand their ICU if and when it’s needed.

Having the extra beds would be somewhat of a relief, but right now, they're focused on ramping up their staffing. 

"We really are looking at different alternatives now to give staff some break and bring other staff on. That is the key. The space is the space; we’ll find space. But you need good staff," said CEO Kevin DiLallo.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton says hospitals in Pinellas County hope the governor can send them help after sending 100 nurses to South Florida.

"They are currently being strained. They have plans in place. They have search plans in place in order to handle increased capacity. A lot of that has to do with staffing and they are currently in the process of requesting resources," Burton said.

This all comes as the governor waits to hear about the federal request he put in with vice president Mike Pence for more medical personnel.

FOX 13 News reached out to Tampa General Hospital about the hospital's current staffing. Officials there said they're in "good shape personnel-wise."