Memorial Hospital facing dilemma of having to put off certain surgeries due to COVID overload

An inside look at a Memorial Healthcare intensive care unit shows how overrun the sytsem is because of a surge in the coronavirus.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – It’s an inside look at Memorial Hospital’s intensive care unit at a time when so many hospital beds are being taken up by those in need of treatment for COVID-19.

Memorial Healthcare System’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marc Napp announced on Wednesday that the healthcare system will suspend elective procedures starting Monday.

He said that the surge of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients who require more care and also create a staffing challenge is forcing decision makers to make some tough calls.

And while they have worked to expand bed capacity to non-COVID patients, adding beds in a conference center, an auditorium, even a cafeteria, absorbing the spike in COVID patients now at nearly last summer’s peak and rising, along with non COVID patients is straining the system.

“It’s the sheer number coming in at the same time. There are only so many beds, so many doctors, only so many nurses,” said Napp, who added that numbers of COVID patients coming in to the hospital is not surprising, based on population behavior, i.e. not getting the vaccine and not taking the pandemic as seriously as he believes people should have.

“We have opened up an additional 250 beds in our hospitals. We have opened them up in spaces that are not usually used for patient care. We have a conference center at Memorial Regional Hospital that is used for educational meetings,” Napp said.

He said that they have opened up 40 patient beds in the conference space and that a cafeteria at Memorial West now has been converted to accommodate patient beds.

“We have other spaces in our hospitals in Miramar and Pembroke that have also been converted to take on additional patients. Without those beds, these patients would not have a place to be,” he said. “The challenge is the number of people getting sick at the same time.”

Everything is having a domino effect on the strain in the system. “Because we are really constrained in terms of inpatient beds, the patients are staying in the emergency department for a long period of time, which puts a greater strain on the nursing staff that is in the emergency department,” he said.

Another issue? A run on oxygen from a lesson learned, Napp said, treating COVID patients during the initial introduction of the coronavirus, which showed that the use of “high flow oxygen” was effective. Ventilators are still used, but not as often as when the pandemic began, he explained. With the surge, there’s a sharp increase in the demand for oxygen, and although they aren’t experiencing an oxygen shortage, it is something they are “keeping their eye on.”

And it’s leading to tough healthcare delivery choices.

“If somebody is due for a screening colonoscopy because they are due for it and there is a risk they could have cancer, is that elective or not? And that’s a subtle decision we are trying to navigate through with our staff,” he said.

Memorial Healthcare System officials said they will still care for emergencies, and all of its facilities, including physician practices and radiology, laboratory, rehab, and cancer centers remain open for business.

Savannah Kelly, director of communications for the Florida Hospital Association told Local 10 News that in 2020, hospitals lost about $3 billion in revenue loss from delayed or canceled services.

What still remains unclear is if the state, as they did in the first wave of the virus, plans to dispatch nurses to South Florida to help with staffing demands.

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."