Over the past week, NBC 6 Investigators have been surveying medical professionals on the front lines against the coronavirus pandemic in South Florida. Nearly 170 have participated through SurveyMonkey and their tone is getting a bit more urgent.
A nurse wrote “life and death decisions” are done daily “amidst limited dwindling resources from PPEs (personal protective equipment) to common medications used for intubated patients.”
Dr. Randy Katz, head of emergency services at Memorial Regional Hospital, gets the call when bad things happen in Broward county. But the coronavirus pandemic is a crisis in slow motion.
“I think we have a long way to go. I think we’re in the very early innings and we’re seeing the beginning of what we have to come," he said.
Katz and other doctors at Memorial say the hospital is well prepared for a surge of patients.
But other medical professionals, who participated in the NBC 6 survey, say personal protection equipment is lacking.
“We do not have sufficient masks,” a Miami nurse wrote in the survey. “We are reusing masks for multiple patients.”
While slightly more than half of survey respondents say they have adequate PPE, one in five say they've been asked to work around exposed patients without all the proper gear.
Katz has also heard complaints about protective equipment.
“I have colleagues who are without PPE,” he said. “In my healthcare system, that has not been the case and I am proud to say I have not lost one physician or nurse as of today and I’m not naive, I can’t say that’s going to be the case for the foreseeable future.”
NBC 6 Investigators reached out to multiple hospital systems in our area. Most say they have adequate supplies to protect employees and care for patients. Some of them acknowledged they are asking staff to "conserve" protective equipment and "carefully" distributing it.
Katz says early decisions, like erecting tents to screen people outside the building, are paying off for now.
But he and others healthcare professionals are concerned that cruise ships could bring many patients to our community.
“That’s what we’re petrified about,” another doctor at Memorial wrote in the survey. “Then when a wave really hits in a week or two, our resources will have been depleted.”
Jorge Infante, an emergency physician who works for several hospital systems in Florida, agrees.
“You absolutely worry because the worry about this pandemic is capacity,” Infante said. “When you have too many patients your mortality rate goes up because you can’t deal with the complications and this illness causes more complications than usual.”
Citing how easily the virus spread, Infante says he’s taking precautions like sterilizing his own protective equipment.
“If we get sick, we can’t take care of the person that gets sick and now if the issue is resources now, you have less resources,” Infante said.
Others share similar concerns in the survey.
Infante and other emergency physicians are asking the public to stay home and urge lawmakers to increase the production and distribution of PPE.
In a Wednesday interview on Morning Joe, Katz also stressed the public can help by staying isolated.
“The choices that you’re making, these naive choices, going to the beach, going the sandbar, congregating together, it’s killing people," he said. "There’s nothing worse than seeing a patient in front of you and there’s nothing you can do for them as they gasp for air."