Broward Health Chief Medical Officer Says Hospital System Prepared For Any COVID-19 Surge

Jun 26, 2020

More South Floridians are testing positive for COVID-19. The state reports higher percentages of positive tests over the past few days — hovering around 10 percent and sometimes even higher.

Some local officials are concerned about the trends, but reopening continues.

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More aggressive local measures are being taken in some parts of the state:  Broward and Miami-Dade County officials have said they’re going to crack down on businesses that violate coronavirus guidelines. Palm Beach and Monroe counties instituted mandatory mask orders.

Hospitalizations are also increasing — especially in Miami-Dade County. It’s another significant health metric that could determine how communities get through this latest COVID impasse.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson talked about hospital capacity with Dr. Joshua Lechus, Chief Medical Officer at Broward Health Medical Center.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: How do you think the occupancy rate looks at Broward Health?

DR. JOSHUA LENCHUS: I think there's a lot of angst and concern in the public about the increasing number of cases that we see day over day, week over week, within the state, within the county. At this hospital, we stand ready, willing and able to take care of any patients that need hospitalization. Like other institutions across the country, we've crafted early on in the days of COVID a surge contingency plan. So that also is not factored into when you look at a hospital capacity.

Have you exercised that surge contingency plan in the last few days at all?

No, we have not met that threshold in order to execute that. So we have plenty of capacity to take care of not just COVID patients, but patients that need to come to the hospital to get their their medical care.

We have plenty of open beds that we can bring in additional resources to staff, should we need that. - Dr. Joshua Lenchus, Broward Health

What are the thresholds for exercising that surge plan?

From the beginning, we've isolated specific areas within the institution where we group COVID positive patients where we can keep them together and away from being commingled or spread within patients that do not have the infection. That's really in an effort to keep everyone safe and provide the appropriate care that everyone needs. As those areas become full, then we open up additional areas, with that in mind, obviously, in separating patients that are positive from patients who are not.

And once we hit that maximum threshold, then we leverage the surge capacity plan. We've had tabletop exercises about increasing that capacity for another 20 percent. We have not even filled the areas that we have originally designated for COVID-19 patients at this point.

Are the concerns that folks may have around on hospitalizations and the way that the hospitalization occupancy numbers are communicated and distributed, is it somehow not providing an accurate picture of what the hospital capacity is in South Florida to deal with clearly what is a rise of COVID-19 infections?

I can't speak for other hospitals. I could only speak for for my system. Briefly, the answer is "no." We have larger capacity than what it would seem, when you look at the hospital data on the department of health website, and that's simply a matter of reporting. If we operated a business office and you had seven offices in that building, and you had one person to clean each office and there was only one person who occupied the building, you wouldn't still leverage your seven cleaners into that building. That's simply not necessary. So, same concept. We have plenty of open beds that we can bring in additional resources to staff, should we need that.

To your first point, there are an increased number of cases in the community. And while that is concerning from a public health perspective, what's most concerning to me and to my colleagues in the health care industry is, What is a percentage of those patients that are infected that actually require hospitalization? If you remember, you follow the Italian model or what was going on in New York, people were not clamoring about the number of cases. People were clamoring about the number of cases overwhelming the health care system. And we just have not seen that bear out, definitely not at my facility.

The transcript of this interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.