As COVID cases rise on mainland, Keys keep track of count

Locals are familiar with the phrase “heads in beds.” But when it comes to COVID-19, the touristy words mean something else entirely and Keys officials are tracking it closely. How many hospital beds are in the Keys? Does it even matter, because Keys patients will be “shipped” to the mainland if advanced care is needed? What happens when the mainland hospitals are full?

As of July 15, 81% of hospital beds are occupied in Miami-Dade County. In the Keys, it’s 78%.

The Keys Weekly reached out to Lower Keys Medical Center and Baptist Health South Florida (parent company of Fishermen’s Hospital and Mariners Hospital in the Keys) for some answers. Unfortunately, they aren’t simple answers. While there are 96 hospital beds in Monroe County, across the three hospitals and DePoo Hospital, the capacity has the ability to expand to 118 beds with the proper staffing. 

“Our hospital’s capacity changes based on current patients and staffing. This is a very fluid situation and the figures can change throughout the day based on patient admissions and discharges,” said David Clay, CEO of LKMC. “The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), Florida’s chief health policy entity, has granted our hospital a waiver to use beds at our behavioral health campus if needed.”

LKMC is currently operating one unit of COVID-19 patients, although it can be expanded if needed. LKMC said it has a dedicated 10-bed ICU. 

“In the event of a significant surge of cases in our community, we would work collaboratively with county and state health officials to identify other resources to provide care for those who need it,” Clay said. 

According to LKMC, patients may be transferred to another facility if the hospital does not offer the specialty service or level of care they require, or because of patient choice. As of the first week of July, LKMC said it had not transferred a COVID-19 patient due to inability to provide care. 

As part of each hospital’s charter agreement to operate, it must have a formal “surge” plan. In the event of a surge, Florida hospitals will probably follow the New York state model of canceling elective surgeries and other non-essential medical care. 

The Baptist Health South Florida system has seen growing numbers of patients seeking care related to COVID-19. Some hospitals are at full or nearly full capacity, as reported to the state each day. 

Mariners Hospital has 25 licensed inpatient beds, while Fishermen’s Community Hospital has four licensed inpatient beds. (Fishermen’s is operating in a temporary facility while a new hospital is being built.) Both hospitals have the availability to surge to more if needed, said Georgi Pipkin, director of media relations. 

“We have surge plans in place that allow us to increase our bed capacity; and with 11 hospitals in our system, we have the ability to move patients and staff across our organization to help manage our volume,” Pipkin said.  

Since June 1, about 200 patients have been transferred out of Mariners Hospital or Fishermen’s Community Hospital who needed a higher level of care that could not be provided currently at either of these two hospital locations. (This includes COVID-positive and non-COVID related transfers.) Pipkin said criteria for moving patients out of one of Baptist’s Keys facilities is based on the patient’s needs, specifically a higher level of care or service. 

To find the hospitalization numbers for the state of Florida, visit and click on the active links in this story.

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