Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s Coronavirus Preparations, City Council Meetings, and More

covid-19
Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Photo by Aaron Bristol

Boca Raton Regional Hospital is “very well prepared” for a surge in COVID-19 cases.

That’s the assessment of CEO Lincoln Mendez. We spoke on Tuesday, one day after the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that many hospitals in the United States don’t have even enough thermometers to take staff members’ temperatures or enough protection equipment for those workers treating patients who have the virus.

Boca Regional, though, is “in really good shape” when it comes to equipment, Mendez said. Employees get a new mask every day. Last summer, when Mendez took over from Jerry Fedele, the hospital became part of Miami-Dade County-based Baptist Health South Florida. It operates 11 hospitals and has 23,000 employees.

The company, Mendez said, has a good supply chain “with lots of distributors.” The best recent example of that Baptist Health connection paying off is the arrival last weekend of virus test analyzers by Abbott Labs that received expedited approval from the Food and Drug Administration. They show a positive result in five minutes and a negative result in 15 minutes.

lincoln mendez
Lincoln Mendez

Baptist Health, Mendez said, secured 20 of the devices and sent three to Boca Regional. Early on, it took seven to 10 days—sending swabs to private labs—to obtain results from patients who showed symptoms. Then it was 48 hours, which Mendez still called “acceptable.”

With immediate results available, however, Boca Regional won’t have to keep patients needlessly. Nursing home residents who test negative can return without fear of exposing others. Hospital workers can know quickly whether it’s safe for them to go home.

Widespread, immediate testing also will be key to the community resuming normal activities. Health officials can quickly isolate new cases to prevent a second wave.

As of Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health listed 214 had confirmed COVID-19 cases in Boca Raton and 164 in Delray Beach out of roughly 14,000 statewide. The list, however, is based on ZIP codes in and near cities. So the total also includes West Boca and West Delray.

Mendez would not confirm whether Boca Regional has treated infected patients or whether any have died. The Florida Department of Health prohibits hospital administrators from releasing that information.

He said, though, “Every hospital” in South Florida “is treating” infected patients and “most” have had such patients die. Draw your own inference.

On March 18, Gov. DeSantis ordered hospitals in Florida to suspend elective surgeries unless doing so would risk the patient’s life or long-term health. The goal was to prioritize hospital space for the projected wave of COVID-19 patients. Fewer surgeries also mean that the hospital uses less protective equipment.

Boca Regional then created a surgical oversight committee to “review every case,” Mendez said. That review eliminated between 70 percent and 80 percent of all pending surgeries. Public hospitals such as Jackson Memorial in Miami reported similar numbers.

One wonders what those delays—which may or may not have been necessary—will do to hospitals’ financial health. Mendez said, “Money never came up. But we are ready to withstand the surge if it comes.” Baptist Health has ventilators that it can share among hospitals. Current models suggest that demand could peak in late April, but the models change. “It’s fluid,” Mendez said.

Like all responsible private and public health care officials, Mendez emphasizes the importance of social distancing. He praised Boca Raton for declaring a state of emergency and imposing restrictions when cases in Broward County began to mount.

When can those restrictions start to ease? Mendez said there would be “good indications,” such as a reduction in the number of new cases. “We’ll all know.”

Boca council meetings resume

Boca Raton will return next week to city council meetings – without council members in person.

Only staff members will be present in the council chambers for Monday’s community redevelopment agency meeting and council workshop and Tuesday’s regular council meeting. The public can’t attend, but residents will be able to email questions in advance and send voice mail messages using GoToMeeting software. Those who want only to watch on their computer or the city’s Channel 20 TV station still can do so.

A city spokeswoman said the first meetings under virus restrictions will be “fairly simple.” Indeed. There are no items on the CRA and workshop agendas beyond public and council members’ comments. For Tuesday, the main item listed is the consent agenda.

City officials clearly want to determine whether the technology will work before venturing into more complicated issues. Example: There are no plans yet for quasi-judicial hearings. They occur most often for development projects and require a mass oath for anyone who wishes to speak.

On Monday, the council also will hold its organizational meeting that was delayed from last month. Mayor Scott Singer will be sworn in for the full term he won in the March 17 election. Council members Andrea O’Rourke and Andy Thomson will be sworn in for the terms they won unopposed.

As of Wednesday, Delray Beach had not scheduled any city commission or CRA meetings.

First responder cases

Few services are more “essential” during the virus pandemic than government services. So officials in Boca Raton and Delray Beach are monitoring the health of their employees, especially first responders.

As of Wednesday, a spokeswoman said two police officers in Delray Beach and one firefighter had tested positive. According to a Boca Raton spokeswoman, no city employee has tested positive.

Boca Brightline update

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Though Brightline has suspended service because of the virus, the company’s plan for a station in Boca Raton rolls along.

Brightline officials talk weekly with city planners. The site plan for the station and garage next to the Downtown Library went through its first staff review on Monday.

Arts Garage goes online

Arts Garage in Delray Beach is one of many cultural groups trying to hold on through the virus restrictions. All of them are getting creative.

For Arts Garage CEO Marjorie Waldo, that has meant contacting area performers—from music, dance and comedy—who are donating their time to record short performances people can watch online. Waldo calls it “from our heARTS to your home.”

Anyone on the Arts Garage email list can watch. To get on the list, email the group at info@artsgarage.org.