Are some island hospitals filled to capacity with COVID-19 patients? Here’s what you need to know


By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star


With Deputy Health Secretary Iris Cardona Gerena saying Tuesday in an interview on Radio Isla 1320 AM that there are hospitals in Puerto Rico with rooms full of COVID-19 patients, the Star gathered reactions from members of the public health field in order to understand the statements.


Puerto Rico Hospitals Association President Jaime Plá responded that as far as the inventory of regular hospital beds, “there are still enough beds, as around 3,000 beds are available.”


“Where we have some issues are in [regional] areas with intensive care units (ICUs). There have been areas that have been more filled with COVID-19 patients than others, and when you look at some hospitals, their intensive care bed inventory, their number is smaller than other hospitals,” Plá said. “In general terms, around 200 ICU beds are available -- that number fluctuates around 190, 200 and 189, but it has remained on that level. However, there have been some hospitals that have hospitalized a higher number of COVID-19 patients; therefore, their ICU is more filled than others. This is where hospitals are conducting patient transfer programs when they need to, or sending the patient to other hospitals that have a bed available.”


When the Star asked if this might raise concerns with hospital personnel, Plá said people must understand that first responders are working under tension.


“They’re working with challenging patients, they’re working with patients who can get worse at any moment, with patients who are hard to work with,” he said. “There’s an ongoing concern that our patients do not die and, simultaneously, that our employees don’t get contaminated. It’s a really complicated situation.”


Meanwhile, Plá said that as part of the guidelines provided by the island Health Department to try to expand ICUs with negative pressure rooms and attend to the rising numbers of COVID-19 patients, “there are patients who have been secluded in negative pressure rooms to address the situation.”


“It’s not that hospitals are collapsing, it’s that some hospitals are more filled up than others, and you have to navigate patients into hospitals that have more intensive care beds available than other hospitals,” he said.


Puerto Rico Physicians & Surgeons Association (CMCPR by its Spanish initials) President Víctor Ramos contradicted Plá, saying “there were hospitals that reported 100 percent capacity in intensive care beds last weekend.”


“Jaime’s position is difficult; members of his association are private entities that compete against each other and will never say that they aren’t doing well because no patients will show up at their hospitals, similar to businesspeople, where no one gets infected in their enterprises, restaurants, gyms; everyone, it looks like everyone gets infected due to the air,” he said. “Beds are not only for COVID patients, there’s COVID-19 and plenty of other ailments to attend to.”


Ramos reiterated what he told the Star on July 20, that pressure was building among hospitals outside the metropolitan region.


“This should not be seen as a whole, but rather the regions should be analyzed. Most cases are in larger metropolitan areas, but the majority of the country’s hospital capacity, by far, is in those larger metropolitan areas,” Ramos said. “You don’t need the San Juan cases to collapse other regions. There are plenty of almost full hospitals in Manatí, in Arecibo, in Mayagüez, in Fajardo, and certainly, that worries us because there is not the hospital capacity that there is in the metro area.”


He noted the island town of Vieques as an example of that concern, where the municipality on Sunday reported 27 positive COVID-19 cases in one day, which represents an 11 percent positivity rate.


“There are no hospitals in Vieques; if patients become severe, where will you transfer them if Fajardo’s hospital capacity is not big enough?” the CMCPR president said. “From the beginning [of the pandemic], I was saying that this should be seen regionally, San Juan is not Puerto Rico.”


As of press time, Cardona could not give the Star a response or clarify the information regarding her statements in the Radio Isla interview.