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With RNC planning underway, Jacksonville’s safety net hospital faces ICU crunch

ICU at a premium for Jacksonville’s most vulnerable.

While not every hospital in Jacksonville is running out of ICU space, the one that the city’s most vulnerable rely on is getting dangerously close.

Statistics from AHCA reveal that UF Health — Jacksonville’s sole safety-net hospital — continues to face existential challenges regarding intensive care space.

Of the 100 adult ICU berths at the hospital’s main campus on Eighth Street, at the western edge of Springfield, just two were open as of Wednesday morning, with 98 ICU patients accounted for.

That number improved to eight by the evening, with three more open beds at the Northside campus, which does not house virus patients.

For the hospital, the dread specter of running out of ICU beds isn’t just a future consideration.

UF Health CEO Leon Haley briefed elected leaders on the scenario late last week.

He described then “significant rises” in “cases and hospitalizations,” giving the lie to the politicians’ narrative that a surge in cases among the young didn’t matter because they wouldn’t die like older patients would.

COVID-19 patients, he suggested then, were taking up the berths. And if the trend held, elective surgeries would have to be banned again, a category of medical care that often includes essential procedures.

For UF Health’s population, “health disparities” persist, Haley said, with “a lot of African Americans and Hispanics that have trouble accessing health care,” a struggle exacerbated by the comorbidities that create the worst health outcomes with the novel coronavirus.

Florida is already under a state of emergency through the Republican National Convention, but for some that emergency is more pressing than others.

Haley, recognizing that being on the RNC host committee during a pandemic was a bad bet, resigned that post immediately to focus on his hospital’s response to a full-scale crisis with no end in sight.

Tests tabulated July 7 showed an over 13% positive rate, a number in line with tallies for most of the last two weeks.

The median age of positive tests is also up, to 39 years of age as of July 6.

The lag time between test administration and results can be long for most, but not Mayor Lenny Curry, a member of the aforementioned RNC host committee who is self-quarantining because of virus exposure, despite a negative test.

All told, Jacksonville’s hospital system has 17% of berths available, suggesting that some arrangement must be made for private hospitals to handle the overflow, if all else fails for the embattled safety-net facility.

Statewide, capacity is just below 15% as of Wednesday evening.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
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