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Florida hospitals fighting to get oxygen with ‘hands tied’

Victor Suero, 34, is treated for COVID-19 at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, July 23, 2021. Doctors and nurses in the Florida hospital thought the onslaught of coronavirus admissions had ended.
Victor Suero, 34, is treated for COVID-19 at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, July 23, 2021. Doctors and nurses in the Florida hospital thought the onslaught of coronavirus admissions had ended.Scott McIntyre/NYT

Florida hospitals are struggling to get oxygen due to a rise in Covid-19 cases attributable to the delta variant and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision not to declare another state of emergency.

A shortage of drivers who are qualified to transport oxygen, as well as restrictions around how long truck drivers can be on the road—which went back into effect following the expiration of the public health emergency in the state—means that the supply isn’t getting to the hospitals that need it most.

There is “plenty of oxygen, just not in the right area,” Brig. Gen. David Sanford, director of the White House supply chain task force, said in an interview.

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The fastest way to help hospitals that are running low on oxygen supply would be to move it from a hospital somewhere else in the state, Sanford said. Another solution could be asking industry participants to reallocate their own supplies in the state.

But absent certain transportation waivers, “hospitals are fighting with a hand tied behind their back and don’t have the same chance that they did when states had the public health emergencies declared,” said Soumi Saha, vice president of advocacy for hospital supply purchasing group Premier Inc.

Florida currently has 11,515 Covid-19 patients who are hospitalized, taking up 84% of inpatient beds as of Aug. 3, according to the Florida Hospital Association. Covid-19 can damage patients’ lungs, which means doctors need to deliver higher oxygen concentrations to get their breathing to adequate levels. Doctors and nurses also need more supplies to deliver oxygen to the high numbers of Covid-19 patients in their hospitals.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management can give transportation waivers without DeSantis’s approval to alleviate this problem, Saha said. She said the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile has also run into the same transportation problems getting oxygen from its suppliers to hospitals in need.

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DeSantis’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Miami-based Memorial Healthcare System sounded the alarm to the White House on the transportation issue Wednesday when it thought it was going to run out. However, it was resupplied Wednesday morning.

Sanford said he plans to work with Matheson Tri-Gas Inc. and the Florida Division of Emergency Management to address these issues.