TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis was joined by Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Simone Marstiller and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry for a roundtable conversation with hospital leadership from major hospital systems in Florida regarding the effectiveness of vaccines, the success with COVID-19 treatments and hospital capacity.
Hospital executives who participated in the roundtable included:
- John Couris, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital
- Carlos Migoya, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jackson Health System
- Shane Strum, President and Chief Executive Officer of Broward Health
- David Strong, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orlando Health
- Dr. George Ralls, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Orlando Health
The full video of the roundtable can be found HERE.
One theme heard during the roundtable is the impact that vaccinations — especially among Florida’s vulnerable 65+ population — have had on area hospitals. For instance, at Tampa General the median age of COVID-19 inpatients was 68 last summer and is currently around 57. This shift toward younger demographics is, in part, due to the success of vaccinating seniors and protecting them against more severe illness. At Orlando Health, approximately 55% of patients being seen with COVID-19 are between 40 and 64 years old, whereas people over the age of 65 comprised more than half of those hospitalized last summer.
“The message that I have is that 99% of those COVID patients are not vaccinated,” said Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. “There’s a lot of discussion — a lot of people are afraid and panicking. The solution is to get vaccinated. I’m not suggesting we coerce or force or mandate people to get vaccinated, but we keep working together to educate them that the vaccine is effective. They will keep you out of the hospital and keep you from getting really, really sick.”
“Ninety-five percent of our current patients that are here are unvaccinated,” said Shane Strum, President and Chief Executive Officer of Broward Health. “Talking about that average age, ours was in the low 70s last time. This time, it’s in the 50s, low 50s. So, you see a big difference there. I think another critical or important number to share with you would be that 80% of our patient census is non-COVID patients.”
In North Broward, Strum also added that the average length of stay seen in unvaccinated patients being treated for COVID-19 has been 5-7 days. Among the vaccinated, it’s averaging about 1-2 days. Further, he indicated that although the Delta variant may be “more contagious, what our physicians are telling us — it is less powerful.”
“The two messages here are really obvious: vaccinated people have a lot less potential of getting hospitalized — that’s extremely important,” said Carlos Migoya, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jackson Health System. “If you get sick, go see someone in the first seven days, monitor your oxygenation rate. There are machines nowadays you can put in your finger [and] if your number is down below 94%, that’s a problem. Go to your [emergency department].”
Migoya also emphasized that a quarter of the COVID-positive patients at Jackson Health are asymptomatic and being treated for other reasons. Specifically at Jackson Health, nearly half of all vaccinated patients hospitalized are inpatients due to other causes but simply tested positive with no or mild symptoms. Additionally, during the roundtable, Orlando Health and North Broward Health reported roughly 95% of COVID-19 inpatients are unvaccinated, with Jackson Health reporting roughly 88%.
“Despite the information that’s coming out about people that are fully vaccinated still getting COVID, those numbers are low,” said Dr. George Ralls, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Orlando Health. “And they are absolutely still in a better situation than they would have been had they gotten COVID without the vaccine. So really, really important to drive that message to everybody.”
“From my perspective, I am grateful for and very impressed by the way the hospitals and all of the facilities across our healthcare system have once again come together to deal with this,” said AHCA Secretary Simone Marstiller. “I appreciate that we have open communication. I want to just remind everyone of all the flexibilities that the hospitals have had throughout COVID. Those flexibilities still exist and if anyone needs to expand outside of the areas in which you have licensed beds, you all have the flexibilities to do that.”
Although the number of beds in use has increased over the past few weeks, the leadership of these area hospitals report that between 5-20% of inpatients are due to COVID-19. Jackson Health reports this number was as high as 50% last summer.
“Do not delay care,” said John Couris, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital. “The hospitals are ready, and we’re able to take care of patients in a crisis and an emergency. At TGH right now we have 126 COVID patients — we are a 1,041-bed hospital. That’s a little over 10% of our beds are devoted right now to COVID patients.”
“We want to make sure that we’re continuing the work that we’re called to do every day,” said David Strong, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orlando Health. “I don’t want folks to lose sight of that. One of the things that occurred, and you’ve heard some of my colleagues talk about it this last year, where people delayed care, that creates significant issues. Unfortunately, many people are paying for that today. So, we would just encourage people not to delay care, but seek the care that you need.”