Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped at Halifax Health Medical Center on Sunday to highlight some of the hospital’s practices and urge the public to have confidence that hospitals are doing a good job at infection control.
DAYTONA BEACH — Halifax Health Medical Center and other hospitals statewide will on Monday be allowed to perform elective procedures after a six-week hiatus ordered by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who lifted that with a new order last week.
DeSantis appeared Sunday at a news conference at Halifax Health with hospital officials, who talked about their strategies for keeping the reins on coronavirus as it emerged across the United States. He pointed to CDC recommendations for halting the surgeries in the first place.
"Part of the reason they wanted to do that was to make sure there was enough hospital space, which just from the data I thought that we would have that, but then they were also concerned about a lack of (personal protective equipment) and at that time there was real concern so we ended up doing it," DeSantis said. "As we’ve gone through this, as hospitals have had more than enough capacity, there’s obviously a need to bring (elective surgeries) online, so that’s going to start tomorrow."
Jeff Feasel, Halifax Health’s president and CEO, said in addition to the loss of elective surgeries since March 20, the hospital has seen diminished volumes in its emergency department. That’s forced Halifax to furlough about 300 employees for four months, as it was losing millions of dollars in revenue.
The News-Journal is providing this important health information for free. Help support our journalism. SUBSCRIBE HERE.
DeSantis said his order was necessary to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed in the event of a worse coronavirus outbreak.
"That obviously has succeeded. We have not seen that in Florida, but because all these other things were not happening, a lot of hospitals had to furlough workers," he said. "And so some of the capacity was diminished on the back end. This will allow the system to start running again like it should and obviously it will be good for people’s health."
With the new order starting, Halifax Health has about 25 elective surgeries scheduled for Monday and close to 40 on Tuesday, Feasel said. Prior to the outbreak, about 80 surgeries were scheduled daily throughout Halifax’s system.
About 20 to 30 emergency procedures have continued daily through the pandemic, Feasel said.
The elective surgeries are not all considered optional.
Dr. Robert Feezor said some examples of elective surgeries include procedures for aneurysms, heart bypasses, cancer, gall bladder and hernias.
"If you need surgery, now is as safe as ever," he said.
Halifax Health officials attempted to ease public concern about how safe the hospital is with COVID patients.
Dr. Peter Harman said Halifax Health was able to find a space "considerably separated" from the main part of the hospital to assemble a COVID unit.
"As a matter of fact, the vast majority of people who work in this hospital don’t know where this unit is," Harman said.
"It’s been turned into a negative pressure room with the strategic use of fans and vents," Harman said. "We have kept the people who work in that unit separate from the staff who work in the main hospital."
Halifax Health has seen just 14 of its 4,300 employees test positive, with only two of those cases involving people in caregiving jobs, Feasel said.
Dr. Margaret Crossman, medical director of Halifax Health, said all personnel will be wearing masks and everyone entering the building will be screened by having temperatures taken and questions asked about symptoms.
"We had the luxury of time, six weeks, to work on making sure we have taken our policies and made them COVID-informed," Crossman said. "Everything we do throughout the institution is designed to keep you safe."
While Volusia County’s coronavirus numbers grow daily, DeSantis said he is encouraged that as more testing occurs, the county has had a 1.5% to 2% positive rate, with the exception of Tomoka State Prison, where positive tests of inmates and staff have comprised a large portion of the county’s cases.
DeSantis said testing statewide is ramping up, with one effort involving a mobile lab inside an RV with the ability to give tests.
"So we’ll have 3,500 tests a week and we’re going to go to different long-term care facilities to start, offer these tests and be able to get results back very, very quickly," the governor said. "We’ll have an announcement on it when it’s ready to roll but I’m really excited about it."
DeSantis also said he had granted pharmacists the authority to give COVID tests and Walgreens has announced its going to do nine drive-through sites in Florida, including one in Orange City.
CVS and Walmart are also planning to announce testing programs in Florida soon, DeSantis said.
While some experts expect COVID-positive tests to subside over the summer and perhaps return in the fall, DeSantis said Florida will be ready.
"If that happens, we’re going to have a really good infrastructure put in place, (better) than the country had in February and early March," he said.