Staff shortages

Staff shortages at Florida hospitals are surging along with COVID-19 cases.

As Florida hospitals treat record numbers of COVID-19 patients, some of the state’s biggest facilities are worried they might not have enough staff needed to provide care.

Twelve Florida hospitals reported having a “critical staffing shortage” as of last Monday, and another 15 hospitals reported that they expected critical shortages within the week, according to federal data. Meanwhile,167 hospitals reported not having staffing shortages, and 164 reported that they didn’t anticipate shortages in the following week.

Maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the information does not identify hospitals by name.

But the top executive at one of the state’s largest hospitals said he expected to have staffing shortages as early as this week. During an online news conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis and other hospital executives from across the state, Jackson Health System CEO Carlos Migoya said staffing has become a “huge” challenge.

Nurses who once were part of Jackson Memorial Hospital’s staff are leaving and taking jobs with travel-staffing companies, where they can earn two or three times the pay, Migoya said.

“That is a real big challenge right now we are dealing with,” he told the governor. “And the only thing we can hope for is this (COVID-19) surge that is going on really peaks out here pretty soon and we get back to a more normal environment.”

The staffing concerns come as the state deals with dramatic increases in hospitalizations because of an alarming increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths stemming from the delta variant of the coronavirus.

On Monday, Florida reported 28,317 new cases of COVID-19 and 239 deaths from over the weekend. Two weeks prior, Florida averaged 17,756 new infections and 68 deaths a day, according to Centers for Disease and Control Prevention data updated last Wednesday.

The number of hospitalizations, meanwhile, climbed to 15,169 on Tuesday. About 89% of the 5,801 intensive care unit beds in the state were occupied by patients, with 45% being used by people with COVID-19.

Migoya said he has discussed staffing concerns with DeSantis and the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller, who also took part in the news conference.

The results of a Florida Hospital Association member poll painted a potentially darker staffing picture than the federal data. Completed last Monday, the poll showed that 60% of facilities expected a “critical staffing shortage” within the following seven days. The association’s poll included responses from hospitals representing 82% of the state’s acute-care beds.

Florida law does not include minimum nurse staffing requirements. But state rules make clear that facilities must have enough nurses on staff to sufficiently ensure “immediate availability of a registered nurse for bedside care of any patient when needed, to assure prompt recognition of an untoward change in a patient’s condition and to facilitate appropriate intervention by nursing, medical or other hospital staff members.”