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Rob Landers, Palm Beach Post
Palm Beach County hospitals no longer have to report COVID-19 data daily to the county government.
County commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to cancel an order requiring local hospitals to send statistics to the county’s emergency management department detailing how many coronavirus patients they were treating, how many intensive care unit beds are available, and more.
With COVID-19 infections plunging countywide — 1,377 new cases reported in a week on Friday, the least since July 9 — Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said, “I don’t think we need to burden our hospitals with providing that data.”
But, she added, “If we see those numbers creep up during the winter season … we can revisit that.”
COVID-19 and hospitals: Some argue that providing data is not a burden
The county’s top health official called the Commission’s decision a “good idea.” But a Miami bioethicist disagreed that the county’s order was burdensome. And private hospitals said months ago they would have no problem delivering the requested information daily.
“The hospitals are out of surge status and we stay in frequent dialogue,” said Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the county branch of the state health department. “If they see another surge coming we can activate the emergency order locally expeditiously. We have a great working relationship with all our hospitals and CEOs.”
Kenneth Goodman, director of the University of Miami Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, said now was not the time to relent. “Every time it goes down we say, ‘OK that’s over, we can go back to normal,’ and we’ve been wrong four out of five times,” he said.
“I’m scratching my head about why anyone thinks it’s a problem,” he added. “They’ve been doing it. It’s not hard. They’ve shown willingness in the past. So why?”
Hospitals said in August they would have no problem sending coronavirus statistics to the county.
“We have no issue with submitting reports to the county and are appreciative of the efforts our county leaders are making to help protect our community during this ongoing COVID-19 surge,” Tenet Healthcare spokesman Ryan Lieber said in August. The for-profit company owns Good Samaritan, St. Mary’s, Palm Beach Gardens, Delray and West Boca medical center.
No representatives from any of the 13 privately owned hospitals countywide responded Tuesday to requests for comment on county commissioners’ decision.
“Lakeside Medical Center has seen fewer COVID-positive patient admissions and the hospital’s six-bed Intensive Care Unit (ICU) has capacity,” said Robin Kish, spokeswoman for the tax-funded Health Care District of Palm Beach County, which runs the Belle Glade hospital. “With respect to this decision, it can be revisited should the need arise.”
Today’s COVID charts: Vaccination numbers dropped last week for first time since June
Until Monday, the county Department of Emergency Management reported statistics it collected daily from hospitals, such as the number of adults and children being treated for the deadly respiratory disease; how many people reported being fully vaccinated; and the tally of vacant ICU beds. Individuals were not identified.
Thirteen hospitals in the county are privately owned, so under normal circumstances they don’t have to send the county government the data listed in the emergency order. But they regularly report coronavirus data to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, though that information is at least one week old. And until June, the state Agency for Health Care Administration published daily some of the figures it collected from hospitals.
What are the latest COVID-19 numbers in Palm Beach County?
The county emergency management department began collecting COVID-19 figures daily from the 14 local hospitals after commissioners declared a state of emergency Aug. 20 amid an unprecedented surge of infections countywide. When none of the private hospitals would accept a critically ill COVID-19 patient from Lakeside Medical at the time — the rural hospital had filled up — county commissioners unanimously passed the emergency order.
Medical staff in Palm Beach County treated more than 900 patients in late August, including more than 200 in ICUs, the department reported. Hospitals told the department on Aug. 26 they had just seven ICU beds available for adults.
On Monday, 13 hospitals were treating 138 COVID-19 patients, including 58 in ICUs, with 35 adult ICU beds free.
The overwhelming majority of patients diagnosed with the deadly respiratory disease are not fully vaccinated — 78% of them, hospitals reported Monday.
Fewer hospitals reported to the county emergency department in the past week: An average of 11 in the seven days ended Monday, down from a seven day average of 13 on most days before Oct. 9. Emergency department director Mary Blakeney did not return requests for comment.
Palm Beach County’s coronavirus death toll sat Monday at 4,060, the White House COVID-19 Team reported. That was a 352-person increase from Sept. 17. The state stopped reporting county-level deaths directly to the public in June.
The disease has killed 58,142 Florida residents since the pandemic began in March 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Sunday.
Chris Persaud is a data reporter for The Palm Beach Post.