Are already crowded hospitals in Southwest Florida ready for a COVID-19 outbreak?

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney
Published: Updated:

Joann Cozzolino has congestive heart failure and renal failure.

She ends up in the hospital several times a year.

“Sometimes I am there and then two weeks later I’m back again,” she said.

Her husband, Gary Atherton, is her full-time caretaker. He diligently counts out her pills, drives her to her dialysis appointments and advocates to see that she gets the best care.

Atherton said that doesn’t always happen. At least seven times over the past year he said she ended up waiting on a gurney in the hallway of Gulfcoast Medical Center waiting for a room.

“One time she was in the hallway for 24 hours,” he said.

Joann has not been back to the hospital since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. So far, Lee Health said the coronavirus is not putting hospitals at capacity.

Between Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties there are a total of around 3200 hospital beds according to information obtained from the Florida Hospital Association. But not all of those beds would be available if the virus were to massively spread because people like Cozzolino who are in and out of the hospital would still be taking up beds for illnesses not related to Covid-19.

The goal is to flatten the curve of the spike of new cases, to keep numbers below the line of the healthcare system capacity.

“We do pandemic preparedness all the time. it’s part of what hospitals do,” said Dr. Larry Antonucci, CEO of Lee Health.

Antonucci said part of the plan to make sure Lee Health hospitals are not overwhelmed includes canceling elective surgeries and repurposing some of their sites across the countries to treat the virus.

But he emphasized that slowing the spread is still the top priority.

“If you are 35 and healthy and you say well what’s the big deal probably just going to shake this off, but the fact of the matter is you may give it to your grandmother or your grandfather, or the person in line in front to you at the grocery store,” he said.

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