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Okaloosa near capacity for ICU beds

Jim Thompson
jthompson@nwfdailynews.com
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — Okaloosa County was nearly out of available intensive-care unit (ICU) beds Tuesday, but most of those beds are not occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Trey Goodwin.

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Goodwin and the commissioners were briefed Tuesday by Dr. Karen Chapman, director of the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County, and by Patrick Maddox, director of the Okaloosa County Department of Public Safety, and learned of the ICU bed situation, Goodwin said.

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According to the state Agency for Health Care Administration, both Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, with 28 ICU bends, and Twin Cities Hospital, with eight ICU beds, were at capacity as of Tuesday. Meanwhile, North Okaloosa Medical Center had just two of its 20 ICU beds available as of Tuesday, according to the AHCA data.

But according to Goodwin, only about a dozen of the ICU beds across the county were occupied by COVID-19 patients. And, he said, the hospitals can, “on immediate notice, if needed,” add a few dozen more ICU beds, bringing the county’s total of ICU beds to more than 90 beds.

But, Goodwin said, “so far, they (the local hospitals) are not in an alarm” over their ICU bed availability.

And as far as the general public is concerned, Goodwin said, “there’s no cause for alarm at this point.”

Mitch Mongell, CEO of Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, said Tuesday that “over the last few weeks, the majority of our ICU patients have been admitted for health concerns unrelated to COVID-19.“

Mongell went on to say that “like many hospitals, especially those that are trauma centers like FWBMC, we routinely operate at high capacity rates and have surge plans in place that allow for expanding our capacity beyond the licensed bed number.”

He said that “reported bed capacity is based on licensed bed capacity and is a fluctuating figure that routinely changes through the course of the day as patients are admitted and discharged.”

Still, Goodwin added, county officials now are in constant contact with hospital officials at FWBMC and across the county regarding their ICU bed situations and other COVID-19 treatment-related issues.

“We have to have that data available daily” Goodwin said, in anticipation of any need for the county to take immediate action.

The county commission hasn’t talked about taking further steps against COVID-19, such as instituting a countywide mask-wearing mandate, or closing beaches, Goodwin said.

In recent weeks, according to Chapman’s report, the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County “has distributed over 95,000 free masks and has an many more masks available.” The masks are free via email request to PreparedOkaloosa@flhealth.gov.

While county officials aren’t talking about masking or shutdowns, they have offered to lend some personnel and phone lines to the health department, to help speed up COVID-19 testing. Currently, Goodwin said, the wait for test results can stretch as long as nine days. That’s prompting many people who need COVID-19 testing to head to Pensacola for that testing, Goodwin added.

In light of the local wait for COVID-19 testing results, the county is looking to form a partnership with some local healthcare provider to offer fast COVID-19 testing, with results available within 15 minutes instead of a matter of days, Goodwin said.

Elsewhere locally, the ICU bed situation was even more dire in nearby Bay County, where the AHCA reported that all of the county’s 73 available adult ICU beds were in use, as were three of the county’s four pediatric ICU beds.

The AHCA data also noted that in Walton County, 14 of 23 ICU beds were in use on Tuesday. In Santa Rosa County,, nine of 22 adult ICU beds were occupied. And in Escambia County, 106 of 118 adult ICU beds were occupied, as were five of the 16 pediatric ICU beds available across the county.

The AHCA has recently downplayed the significance of ICU bend availability. In a recent statement, agency spokesman Patrick Manderfield said, “Hospitals have the ability to convert beds and bring additional ICU beds online in a surge situation when necessary. Within 48 hours, hospitals have the capability to dramatically increase statewide staffed capacity in the event of a surge situation.”