Local hospitals take steps to provide capacity as COVID-19 cases increase

BayCare Health System and HCA Healthcare will be doing fewer non-urgent, deferrable surgeries and procedures to make sure their hospitals have adequate bed capacity to care for the rising number of COVID-19 patients in Pinellas County.

BayCare Health System and HCA Healthcare have announced they will be doing fewer non-urgent, deferrable surgeries and procedures to make sure their hospitals have adequate bed capacity to care for the rising number of COVID-19 patients in Pinellas County.

Pinellas added 419 COVID-19 cases to its count on Saturday, bringing the total to 8,041. Since Monday, June 29, DOH has reported 2,096 new cases and 29 deaths in Pinellas. For the week of June 22-28, 2,353 new cases and 40 deaths were reported. Three record-high days occurred with 614 new cases on June 27, 430 on June 26 and 354 on June 23.

The rapid increase in new cases has affected bed capacity at local hospitals over the past few weeks. BayCare and HCA HealthCare, the county’s two major health care systems, sent out press releases to inform the public that they have been voluntarily working together to ensure the community’s needs are met throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Our hospital inpatient beds in Pinellas County are already reaching near capacity and with the number of COVID-19 positive community members growing exponentially, we are preparing now in supporting our caregivers efforts to provide safe, effective and efficient bedside care to an increasing number of sick patients,” said Dr. Larry Feinman, chief medical officer for HCA Healthcare West Florida, in a press release. “We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as necessary.”

Local hospitals reported nearly 22% adult bed capacity (638 of 2,923 beds) as of 12:15 p.m. Saturday, July 4, compared to 18% capacity on Friday and 17% on Thursday. However, the bigger issue seemed to be adult ICU beds.

Four hospitals were reporting no available ICU beds as of Saturday afternoon. Capacity of adult ICU beds countywide was 14.5% (44 of 303 beds), which was up from 11% capacity (33 of 305 beds) reported on Friday. The county had 9.32% capacity in adult ICU beds on Thursday, 9.6% capacity on Wednesday, 15% capacity on Tuesday, 22% on Monday, 22% on Sunday and 18% on Saturday, June 27.

HCA Healthcare Pinellas County hospitals include Largo Medical Center, Northside Hospital, Palms of Pasadena Hospital and St. Petersburg General Hospital. The new policy will be effective Monday, July 6. The change does not affect hospital-based outpatient surgeries or procedures, or those performed at HCA Healthcare Ambulatory Surgery Centers.

HCA’s hospitals are working with surgeons to identify appropriate patients for postponement of procedures that typically require a post-surgical inpatient stay. Patients whose procedures will be delayed will be contacted by their surgeon.

BayCare’s temporary policy will start Friday, July 10, at 5 p.m. and applies only to its four acute care hospitals in Pinellas County: St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Mease Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor and Mease Dunedin Hospital.

“These are never easy decisions to make, as so many people see their lives improve after a non-urgent procedure,” said Tommy Inzina, CEO of BayCare Health System, in a separate press release. “But this is about making sure our community has the maximum resources at its disposal to address the second peak of this pandemic. We exist to serve our community, particularly during a health crisis.”

Under the plan, all surgeries for life-threatening situations will continue to be performed. And unlike the state mandated ban on elective surgeries earlier this year, BayCare will still allow many non-urgent surgeries and procedures to continue. Generally, surgeries that could be deferred are those that are not medically urgent and require overnight recovery in the hospital.

BayCare’s Ambulatory Surgery Centers, which specialize in outpatient surgery and were closed under the earlier government ban on electives, will continue to operate.

“This policy will impact far fewer people’s health care than the previous ban this year on all non-urgent surgeries,” said BayCare’s Inzina. “This is really about one key resource that we need to be sure we have available and that is hospital beds for those battling COVID-19.”

The temporary change in policy does not apply to BayCare’s hospitals in Hillsborough, Polk and Pasco counties, but would be adopted if those communities also face a dearth of available hospital beds to care for COVID-19 patients.

“This is one of the ways we can quickly free up beds as we move forward with surge planning,” explained HCA’s Feinman. “Our ERs remain open and safe, as we continue to prepare for an increase in sick patients and work with other healthcare providers to meet the needs of the communities we serve.”

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.