SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Last year, ShorePoint Health Venice, formerly known as Venice Regional Bayfront Health, shut its doors for good, leading to an increased demand for hospital care in south Sarasota County.

Now, Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s new campus in Venice is taking on many of the patients who would have gone to the 312-bed hospital. The challenge is, SMH-Venice currently has about a third of the capacity, being a 110-bed facility.

Local officials say residents have expressed concerns about the hospital’s capacity limits.

Venice Mayor Nick Pachota, who has over 20 years experience working in the public health sector, says residents are “terrified” about the kind of effect the hospital’s closure will have during an emergency situation.

“We are doing the best we can with it. Our EMS team has stepped up and we’ve got a few more rescues out on the road just to make sure that when our guys are holding the wall over at the hospital, we’ve still got units available to do a quick response and stuff like that,” Pachota said.

There were already plans to expand the hospital, but now, those plans are being fast-tracked to address the demand.

“Even before Shorepoint’s announcement, we already had construction under way to double the capacity at SMH-Venice and we are doing everything we can to expedite the expansion,” said David Verinder, president and CEO of Sarasota Memorial Health Care System. “We will continue to find ways to step up to meet this new challenge and demonstrate the value of a public hospital, just as we have throughout our nearly 100 years of service to the community.” 

The expansion will double the capacity of both the ER and the operating rooms, and the hospital will have more than 200 beds. The hospital is converting administrative space and waiting and reception areas to add more triage and treatment rooms to its emergency care center. 

The first phase should be completed by 2024.

Pachota is looking forward to the expansion. He says in the meantime, the region is receiving the necessary help from entities outside the area. He says the federal government provided resources during the pandemic, and that after Hurricane Ian, a field hospital was set up in the parking lot of the facility.

“They set up an ER out in the parking lot and decompressed the facility. So when you get that influx of patients, they were there to help us manage that and mitigate the less serious cases outside so that the more serious patients could be seen inside,” the mayor explained.