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FEMA expected to dispatch 1,500 nurses to Florida as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge

An entrance at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

(The Center Square) – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is expected to dispatch nurses to Florida at the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The DeSantis administration requested the agency send 1,500 nurses to “surge into hospitals for day and night shifts” in south Florida and in the Tampa area.

DeSantis sent about 100 medical professionals, mostly nurses, to south Florida last week to augment staffing at Jackson Health System in Miami.

The request, submitted July 3, was made as Florida’s COVID-19 case counts exploded in late June – a trend that has accelerated in the 10 days since, with hospitalizations and deaths associated with the disease also increasing significantly.

The Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 dashboard reported 12,343 new positive tests Monday, boosting the number of cases in Florida since March 1 to 282,435, with 4,238 deaths and 18,498 hospitalizations, including more than 7,500 now in being treated in hospitals.

DOH reported 15,300 new cases Sunday, the highest single-day tally recorded in any state. It took 114 days for Florida to record 100,000 positive tests and less than a month for numbers to triple to nearly 300,000.

According to Johns Hopkins University, if Florida was a country, it would rank 10th in the world in COVID-19 cases and fourth globally in new cases.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told CNN on Sunday his county’s hospitals are at 94 percent capacity at intensive care units but most have the ability to add beds.

“We still have capacity, but it does cause me a lot of concern,” he said, noting he also was concerned about hospital staffing.

On CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, AdventHealth President and CEO Terry Shaw and former U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said hospitalizations – and deaths – have not peaked in Florida.

“Things are going to get worse before they get better,” Gottlieb said, predicting “a peak in the next two or three weeks.”

Shaw said AdventHealth, which operates 30 hospitals in Florida, anticipates the state hospitalization peak is “sometime in front of us in July.” He said AdventHealth, however, is prepared with adequate personal protection equipment, ventilators and staffing.

“I give you an example. Our length of stay in our ICU for COVID patients has dropped in half. The number of people coming in to our hospital with COVID that need a ventilator, we’ve also been able to cut that in half,” Shaw said. “And because of those things, our death rate has also been cut in half since the beginning of the pandemic.”

In the state’s request for FEMA nurses, DOH said county health departments reported needing 350 epidemiologists, 1,210 contact tracers and 997 additional nurses, with Miami-Dade citing the need for 400.

DOH reported 35,304 advanced practice nurses and 353,654 registered nurses were licensed to practice in Florida in June 2019. About 78,000 registered nurses licensed to practice in Florida live elsewhere.

DeSantis said Florida has hired 1,000 health care contractors to augment the state’s efforts.

DOH distributed $138 million in federal COVID-19 funding for county health departments to hire staff last week. Broward County received $30.5 million, Miami-Dade received $19.5 million and Palm Beach County got $12.7 million.

“Right now, hospitals are leveraging all available staffing resources to address potential surge should the need arise, particularly in communities with high rates of COVID hospitalizations,” Florida Hospital Association Interim President Crystal Stickle said in a statement

“Our hospitals continue to be the front-line soldiers in the war against this deadly virus,” Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida CEO Justin Senior said, “and we are not letting up.”

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