Florida hospitals report evacuations, lockdowns and water outages

Hurricane Ian has forced several Florida hospitals to evacuate patients and lock down staff members as facilities grapple with power outages and critical interruptions to water supplies.

Mary Mayhew, executive director of the Florida Hospital Association, said 16 hospitals across the state had been evacuated or were in the process of evacuating as of Thursday afternoon.

Some moved patients earlier this week when the hurricane was expected to make landfall in the Tampa Bay area, he said. Hurricane Ian finally made landfall near Fort Myersabout 100 miles south of Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

Emergency services are concerned about operations in Lee County, where at least nine hospitals are without water, Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Lee Health, one of the largest health systems in the county, has evacuated more than 1,000 patients due to the interruption of the water supply, Mayhew said.

“A hospital cannot safely care for their patients without water, and they are in the process of working closely with local and state officials to evacuate their patients because it is unclear when the water will be restored,” Mayhew said.

Physical damage to limited hospitals

Few hospitals have suffered major physical damage, but hurricane-force winds ripped part of the roof off an intensive care unit at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte on Wednesday. staff members transferred critical patients to other floors and mopped up the water with towels and plastic buckets.

Fawcett said in a statement that he evacuated his sickest patients before the storm made landfall. She was transferring 160 more patients to other hospitals after roof damage caused leaks, she said.

Kindred, a hospital system that provides long-term acute care, also evacuated patients from locations in Tampa and St. Petersburg on Wednesday. In all, 44 patients were taken by ambulance to a center in downtown Tampa, said Susan Feeney, vice president of communications for the Kindred division. The hospital is awaiting word from the state on when patients can be transported back, she said.

“These are very, very sick patients,” Feeney said. “Many of them have multiple chronic conditions and a large percentage of our patients are ventilator dependent.”

An Advent Health hospital in Tarpon Springs also transported patients to its sister facilities throughout the Tampa Bay area Tuesday night. The patients will return to the Tarpon Springs location on Friday, the hospital said in a statement.

Meanwhile, other hospitals are starting emergency procedures. Flagler Health in St. Johns County went into a “soft closure” Thursday morning, meaning it is closed to visitors and will not perform elective procedures.

Erin Wallner, public information officer for Flagler Health, said about 350 employees will spend the night on cots. The hospital is equipped with a 2-ton generator in case the power goes out, and has sandbags outside to protect against flooding, she said. All doors have been locked except the entrance to the emergency room.

An air mattress in a Flagler Health staff office
A bed at Flagler Health while the hospital is under “soft lockdown.” Flagler’s Health

Wallner said a baby was born during the lockdown.

“We unloaded anyone who could reasonably be unloaded ahead of the storm,” he said. “We had open heart cases that were over before the storm, and they are here and recovering safely.”

But new injuries from the hurricane could present an additional challenge, Mayhew said.

“There were hundreds of search and rescue operations going on, so I absolutely anticipate that our hospitals are starting to see people coming in from those search and rescue operations who need hospital care,” he said.

Mayhew said damage to the power grid could also “have a ripple effect throughout the health care system,” because hospitals can’t safely discharge patients to homes or nursing facilities that don’t have power.

A growing threat to Florida hospitals

Hurricane Ian could be a preview of what Florida hospitals can expect in the coming decades.

A study released Thursday by researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health assessed flood damage to Florida hospitals through the end of the century, assuming less than 3 feet of sea level rise.

The researchers determined that a Category 2 hurricane, a storm with winds of 96 to 110 mph that can uproot trees or damage roofs, could threaten access to care at more than 60 hospitals in six Florida metropolitan areas (Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota, Jacksonville, and Fort Myers).

At least 21,000 hospital beds are at risk, according to the report.

Study lead author Dr. Aaron Bernstein, interim director of Harvard Chan C-CHANGE, a climate change program, said that while Florida hospitals have been well prepared for hurricanes in the past, future storms are likely to be more dangerous.

“Fort Myers and the Tampa Bay area have invested heavily in hurricanes. They know hurricanes. People in Florida grew up with them. The problem is that climate change is creating different hurricanes than the ones people have known,” Bernstein said.

One of the biggest challenges to hospital care during a storm is road access, he said.

Bernstein’s study projected that all roads within a mile of hospitals in Punta Gorda are at risk of flooding from a Category 2 storm through the end of the century. In Naples, about 99% of these roads are likely to be flooded. And in the Miami metro area, it’s 72%.

Bernstein said cities tend to build hospitals “in the image of Fort Knox” to prepare for hurricanes by stockpiling supplies and erecting levees and underwater gates. But such safeguards aren’t as helpful if the roads are closed, he said: “You can build Fort Knox, but if you can’t get there, what good is it?”

Restricting access to hospitals could have lasting health effects, he added, beyond storm-related deaths.

“When you cut off access to health care, any chronic medical condition can get worse, because people don’t get care,” he said. because they are trying to pay for home repairs or additional expenses and are sacrificing their health.”

A study 2019 found that lung cancer patients who were exposed to a hurricane while receiving radiation had worse survival rates than patients who were not exposed. The risk of death increased the longer the disaster lasted.

Mayhew said the aftermath of Hurricane Ian could put vulnerable people in an even more vulnerable position.

“It will be weeks before the damage is fully understood, and it may take months to restore infrastructure,” he said. “That level of uncertainty is daunting when it comes to making sure you have 24/7 health. care operations in operation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like