State of Florida requests 300 ventilators, sends some to local hospitals for COVID-19 patient care

“I don’t know that the public understands how severe of an issue we are in right now in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. But we are at capacity. "

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Some of our local hospitals are receiving emergency medical equipment from the state. This comes as our local hospitals are in urgent need, treating an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Action News Jax Courtney Cole spent the day working to learn which of our hospitals are receiving those medical supplies.

“I don’t know that the public understands how severe of an issue we are in right now in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. But we are at capacity. We are pulling out disaster-level kind of planning to try and make sure that everybody gets the care that they deserve,” Dr. David Caro said.

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Dr. Caro, the Disaster Medical Officer of UF Health Jacksonville, said they’re running up against the number of machines they have available to give the appropriate care to their COVID-19 patients.

“We’re going to be receiving 25 emergency ventilators from the state,” Dr. Caro said.

According to an e-mail sent to Cole by the Department of Health and Human Services, “The Strategic National Stockpile deployed 200 ventilators, 100 high-flow nasal cannula kits and related ancillary supplies to Florida earlier this week.”

However, on Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s not aware of that request. “I have not heard about that, so I have to check to see if that’s true or not. I would honestly doubt that that’s true, but I’ll look,” he said.

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Cole followed-up with the governor’s office Wednesday. His press secretary Christina Pushaw doubled down on it. Via e-mail, Pushaw said: “The Executive Office of the Governor was not involved in the request at all, and it did not come across his desk. We are not aware of any ventilator shortage in Florida. Governor DeSantis has been very clear that the state is ready to do whatever we can to meet any needs that are articulated to our office.”

Pushaw said this was a request coordinated by the Florida Department of Health.

On Wednesday night, Weesam Khoury, the Communications Director for the Florida Department of Health, also responded to my inquiry via-email. It said in part,

“To be clear, there is not a shortage of ventilators in Florida. The Florida Department of Health reviews health care needs statewide on a consistent basis as part of Florida’s Strategic National Stockpile Program, which is under the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The Department routinely works with the federal government to ensure adequate resources are available and ready to be distributed at all times, as done with this recent request. This is a proactive measure to ensure there are consistent resources available in the state stockpile for deployment.

As resource requests are made from health care facilities, DOH assesses these requests to ensure correct supplies are deployed across the state as efficiently as possible. Through robust coordination with medical professionals at DOH and on the ground at hospitals, it can be determined what exact resources are needed and best suited for a specific facility, and we will always work to ensure ventilators and oxygen flow systems are quickly deployed.”

Based on the explanation from Khoury above, the request for resources is a very deliberate one. Cole followed-up by asking how Governor DeSantis could be unaware of the request for ventilators, made by the DOH.

Thursday morning, Courtney received a response from Khoury, but not a response to the question: “As I stated, the Department routinely works with the federal government to ensure adequate resources are available and ready to be distributed at all times, as done with this recent request. This is a proactive measure to ensure there are consistent resources available in the state stockpile for deployment.”

“What we’re going to be receiving, thankfully, will be some emergency use ventilators that will be used in basic ventilation mode. Hopefully [they] will be able to patch us through a couple of different scenarios, where we might be able to use them for patients they don’t need as high-level ventilators. So, they will hopefully provide us a little bit more cushion,” Dr. Caro explained.

Dr. Caro told Action News Jax more than 90% of their regular ventilators are in use right now. “We have a small supply of those regular ventilators, and then on reserve, we have 24 of these disaster ventilators ready to go, just in case. This whole augment, will give us now, what will be close to 50,” he said.

Flagler Hospital told Cole they received 24 additional ventilators on Wednesday. In a statement from the hospital’s spokesperson, it said in part, “While we currently have a sufficient fleet of equipment, we are continuing to see an increasing volume of patients requiring ventilation support. "

The Baptist-Wolfson Hospital system said they’ve received 75 ventilators.

Memorial Health, Ascension St. Vincent’s and Mayo Clinic told Cole they are not in need of any additional support at this time.

Dr. Caro told Action News Jax the number of COVID-19 patients at their North campus has reached a level that requires their Downtown campus, to step in and help.

“They are not equipped to deal with the large influx of patients like Downtown is. So we’re trying to off-load some of the patients, by sending them Downtown,” Dr. Caro explained.

However, he said there hasn’t been a lot of movement of patients between different hospital systems.

“And part of that is -- everybody’s experiencing this wave at the same exact time. Everyone’s ICUs have been run over. We’re at capacity for ICUs across the city,” Dr. Caro said.

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On Wednesday, UF Health said they are treating 258 patients for COVID-19.

62 are in the ICU, but since their ICU is already at capacity, they are planning for what could be next.

“It required us to come up with some creative solutions, as far as alternative ICU space within the hospital. As we start thinking through different areas, natural places if that would occur, would be in our recovery rooms, outside of the OR, and in the emergency department itself,” said Dr. Caro.

The spokesperson for Baptist Health told Cole Baptist South and Baptist Beaches added more than 100 additional beds in their Care Expansion Units to care for the increased number of COVID-19 patients. She said those CEUs are located in hospitals spaces designated for future build-out. In a statement via e-mail, she explained further: “These units have air conditioning, restrooms, etc. but no other interior improvements or finishes. Many of these additional beds are ICU beds and more can be converted to ICU beds as needed. Patients in the Care Expansion Units can expect to receive the same high-quality care they would receive in our other hospital units, with high-flow oxygen equipment, IV pumps, and monitors.”