POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – With COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise, Polk County’s largest hospital is accessing additional intensive care unit beds it has available to treat patients.
“Right now, we’re in a good spot. We feel comfortable with our bed capacity at the moment,” said Caroline Gay, Senior Vice President at Lakeland Regional Health.
Gay told 8 On Your Side community spread has caused COVID-19 hospitalizations to rise at Lakeland Regional Health.
As of Monday, the hospital was treating 123 COVID patients.
“We are certainly having to be in an all hands on deck kind of situation,” said Gay.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which is tracking intensive care unit (ICU) capacity in the state, shows Polk County with less than 10% adult ICU availability.
It shows Lakeland Regional Health at 0% availability. Hospital officials say the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The state report does not account for the 50 additional ICU beds the hospital has available, they said.
“We’re prepared to take care of 1,000 patients and we have this ICU surge plan and capabilities that are not reflected in that dashboard. That dashboard is only showing regular capacity,” said Gay.
LRH’s regular capacity is 68 beds.
There were 77 ICU patients at Lakeland Regional Health, as of Monday.
“The problem with the overflow areas is that they don’t come with staff. So when you open up an overflow, then you’re having to pull personnel from areas that already needed those people so it gets to be a vicious cycle,” said Hershey Pyle, a longtime critical care nurse.
Pyle treats coronavirus patients at Lakeland Regional Health.
“We’re exhausted. We’re just worn out. Of course, when you’re exhausted, you don’t have those abilities to handle that stress,” she said about nurses at LRH. “It’s rapidly changing and it’s hard to keep up with who’s who and who’s where.”
She tells 8 On Your Side, the personal protective equipment (PPE) redressing seems endless.
“There’s literally water collected in the fingertips of your gloves. You take those off. You wash your hands. You go in the next room and you do it again. Then you come out of that room and you have to go back in the other room. If you’re lucky, you might get to sit down for a minute and chart and then you go right back at it again,” said Pyle.
“We are staffed at this point to care for the volume that we have and we have contingency plans as well to pull in staff to pull in staff from other areas to make sure the beds are covered,” she said.
Dr. Joy Jackson, director of the Department of Health in Polk County, told county commissioners Monday hospitals are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 patients countywide.
“We’re all sort of living right on that edge of if we have a huge influx, we’re going to have some significant trouble,” said Dr. Jackson.
Dr. Jackson urged community members to use every tactic possible to stop the spread of coronavirus, including wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands.
“If we don’t mind our behaviors and don’t enforce behaviors, we’re going to have worsening problems. That’s what keeps me awake, that’s what wakes me up every morning at 2am,” said Dr. Jackson.
Both Dr. Jackson and Caroline Gay, from LRH, said they are comfortable with the amount of ventilators available in the county.
Seventeen COVID-19 patients at Lakeland Regional Health are on ventilators, according to Gay. The hospital has the ability to use 200 ventilators.