Florida hospitals have faced significant oxygen shortages over the last month as they continue to treat the influx of COVID cases due to the Delta variant.
A study from the Florida Hospital Association (FHA) last week found that hospitals with one third of the state’s acute-care beds reported having 48 hours or less of oxygen available to treat patients, according to FHA spokesperson Savannah Kelly.
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Florida hospitals are also facing a shortage of ICU beds. The Hospital Utilization dashboard from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicated over 6,300 ICU beds in 238 hospitals across the state are currently occupied, as of Wednesday. That’s over 93% of all staffed ICU beds in those hospitals. The dashboard also found nearly half of these beds are being used to treat COVID patients.
By comparison, approximately 77% of ICU beds across the nation are occupied, and 14.32% of those beds are being used for COVID patients.
Oxygenation is a key treatment for COVID patients of various severity. Donna Craft, senior director of facilities and construction at Premier, told Becker’s Hospital Review that high-flow oxygen treatment is proving to be more effective for COVID patients than ventilators. However, the medical-grade oxygen needed for this treatment isn’t stored in the Strategic National Stockpile, and hospitals are struggling to keep up as COVID cases increase, Craft said.
In Florida, several hospitals reported oxygen shortages in August, possibly due to COVID restrictions barring truck drivers from delivering resupply stocks. On Tuesday, Tampa Bay Water’s acting COO Jack Thornburgh told WUSF 89.7 that they would switch to water sources that do not use liquid oxygen as a cleaning treatment, as it’s needed for COVID patients.
Despite the recent shortages, Florida hospitals are seeing a “slight improvement” this week, according to Kelly. FHA President and CEO Mary Mayhew said in a statement:
“Our hospitals along with the Florida Hospital Association are working closely with state and county officials as well as oxygen supply companies to aggressively support critical and timely deliveries of oxygen.”
Steve Harris, Tampa General Hospital (TGH) vice president of payor and government affairs, said TGH is working with suppliers and local government agencies to address the shortage. Harris said in an emailed statement:
“We are currently seeing a five or six day plateau of COVID patients with some slight decrease so hopefully that trend continues and this won’t be an issue for much longer.”