(The Center Square) – Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees has asked hospitals to revise how they report COVID-19 demand for intensive care unit beds, changing the emphasis from the number of available beds to the “acuity” of patients in those beds.
Rivkees said some hospitals were housing all COVID-19 patients in ICU even if they did not require intensive care. His request is to count ICU beds only occupied by COVID-19 patients in critical condition who need an “intensive level of care.”
The wording was changed from “current number of COVID + patients admitted into ICU beds” to “current number of COVID + (positive) patients currently receiving ICU level of care.”
“This change in wording was made to more accurately capture the number of COVID-19 patients receiving intensive care,” the Florida Department of Health (DOH) said on its website.
Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis defended Rivkees’ requested revision Tuesday, claiming he did so after hospitals told state officials “they were just using their ICU wing as their COVID wing.”
“What we are getting at is acuity," DeSantis said. "When people are going into the hospital, we want to know what percent need ICU care and to be put on a ventilator. Far fewer need ventilators than what we thought at the beginning. Having lived through this for months, a case today is not the same as a case on March 30th.”
DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre earlier Tuesday issued a Twitter statement defending the revision.
“There is a difference between the number of critical care patients needing an ICU bed as opposed to those occupying an ICU bed for COVID quarantining which is why @GovRonDeSantis is ensuring the data accurately reflects that difference. Smart!” she tweeted.
Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Mary Mayhew said Tuesday that DOH’s COVID-19 dashboard is not an accurate gauge of full ICU capacities.
Mayhew said the system only counts the current number of beds dedicated for ICU needs and does not factor in the number of ICU beds hospitals could potentially provide by converting unused space.
“Hospitals still have adequate capacity around the state. What we are not seeing captured is the ability (for hospitals) to convert beds to ICU to have a level of ICU surge capacity if needed,” Mayhew said.
Mayhew said AHCA is tracking COVID-19 hospital admissions closely, noting an average of 20 percent of COVID-19 inpatient hospital admissions across the state have been to ICU units.
According to DOH, 24.7 percent of hospital beds were available statewide Tuesday, with an average of 23.3 percent adult ICU beds available.
Not everyone agrees the revision was made to more accurately assess “acuity.”
Florida Alliance for Retired Americans President Bill Sauers said Monday the revision serves only one purpose: to lower the state’s COVID-19 ICU case count.
“If you are in an ICU bed, by definition you need an intensive level of care. This is an attempt to cook the books and hide the number of patients with COVID-19,” he said. “The availability of ICU beds is a key measure of the outbreak in Florida, and it’s critical for the public to understand what is happening.”
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried asked on Twitter, “What is the need for this change now?”
Former Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham on Twitter posted: “Wow. The level of #COVID deception in the @GovRonDeSantis administration is appalling. If intensive care unit beds are full, the beds are full and unavailable. This is a dangerous change, folks.”
Washington state pulmonologist Vin Gupta on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday called Florida’s ICU count tweak “data manipulation.”
“Let’s just be clear on that,” Gupta said. “That’s fudging the data so they can report better numbers.”