Florida Keys

Problems with fire sprinklers close Marathon hospital. It’s the only ER in Middle Keys

Baptist Health South Florida plans to rebuild Fishermen’s Community Hospital at a cost of at least $40 million.
Baptist Health South Florida plans to rebuild Fishermen’s Community Hospital at a cost of at least $40 million. FLKeysNews.com

Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon was shut down earlier this week because of problems the city’s fire marshal found with the fire sprinklers in the portable buildings placed there after Hurricane Irma destroyed the original building in September.

Doctors and nurses had been operating out of field hospital tents since Irma, but those were picked up earlier this week. Staff was about to move into the portable buildings Wednesday when inspectors flagged several issues with the units’ safety systems and closed the operation, City Manager Chuck Lindsey said in a text Friday afternoon.

That left the Middle Keys without an emergency room, with Mariners Hospital more than 30 miles north being the nearest spot patients could be treated by an ER doctor or nurse.

Signs outside the hospital tell people to call 911 if they need immediate medical care.

“Walk-up emergencies will be treated through 911 by our fire/paramedic staff, and patients that need to be transferred will be moved to Mariners,” Lindsey said.

Rick Freeburg, chief executive officer of Mariners Hospital — which, like Fishermen’s is owned by Baptist Health South Florida — said the Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West also has an ER that can take care of Middle Keys patients.

City officials hope to have the hospital open Friday night, but that depends on whether the contractor can fix the problem. At issue is an underground pipe that feeds the hospital’s fire sprinkler system. Lindsey said it is not able to hold pressure.

“City staff will be available at any hour to assist the contractors and inspect when ready,” Lindsey said.

Baptist Health South Florida bought Fishermen’s in July 2017. The company has proposed rebuilding a $40 million hospital on the site at 5701 Overseas Highway.

Freeburg said Baptist had hoped to have the portable buildings at the hospital open for patients Wednesday, “but a special electrician had to be flown in and caused the delay. His portion was passed today.”

Georgi Morales Pipkin, a Baptist Health spokeswoman, said the company is working with both the city and the contractor to get the hospital re-opened quickly.

“While Fishermen’s Community Hospital remains closed at this time, we are working with officials on some final inspections and expect to open again soon to continue to serve the community,” Morales Pipkin said in an email Friday evening.