Travel nurses, oxygen, and monoclonal antibody supply are straining Florida hospitals


Nicole Pasia


The leaders of three Florida hospital systems met with members of the House Pandemics and Public Emergency Committee last week as the state continues to grapple with its surge in COVID-19 cases. The hospitals agreed that cases seem to be trending downwards, however the financial and emotional impacts on staff continue to strain facilities. 


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Tom VanOsdol, president and CEO of Ascension Florida, shared statewide data with the committee. He said although cases in this recent summer surge have decreased from 17,121 on Aug. 23, 2021 to 9,256 as of Sept. 17, the September case count is about as high as the 2020 summer case peak. VanOsdol said most patients are unvaccinated and are younger than those in last year’s surge.

“It’s been devastating and traumatizing for caregivers to see so many young, previously relatively healthy individuals struggle and die with what should have been many more years of life to live.”

He also shared that his hospital is struggling with staff shortages and has relied on hiring expensive travel nurses to fill in. Ascension Florida is spending five to six times more on travel nurses, according to VanOsdol. 

John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, urged legislators to take action and impose regulations on travel nurse expenditures. He said travel agencies will pay nurses $100/hour while charging Tampa General about $190/hour, a situation the hospital “cannot compete with.” 

“When those nurses leave to travel — and I do not begrudge them for that, they have student loans to pay off, they have bills to take care of, and they look at [travelling] for an opportunity to take care of bills and student loans — when they travel, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on our ability to keep patients care for people … [traveling nurses] needs to be regulated in a state of emergency.”

Multiple hospitals have also faced oxygen shortages. Gino Santorio, president and CEO Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, explained that high-flow oxygen treatment is more effective for treating COVID patients, rather than putting them on a ventilator. This course of treatment however, uses more oxygen. 

Santorio said at some points, Mount Sinai was as close as 24 hours away from running out of oxygen. Santorio credits the state for working closely with Mount Sinai to ensure that any shortages were quickly addressed. 

“Having the open lines of communication with the state has been really paramount. I mean, three in the morning, we could reach out to our director of emergency management, reach out to the secretary, reach out to legislators. The Governor contacted us. That type of communication, I think, has saved a lot of lives.”

Couris also voiced his disagreement with the federal government’s redistribution of monoclonal antibody treatment, which strengthens the immune systems of newly-diagnosed COVID patients. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would limit monoclonal antibody shipments to certain administration sites, affecting 70% of all orders. HHS reasoning for the restrictions was to “help promote optimal and equitable use” amid increased demand for the treatment. 

A full video of the meeting is available here. Interim committees are scheduled to meet again in mid-October.