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September 29, 2022

Hurricane Ian is here. Here's how 4 Florida health systems prepared.

Daily Briefing

    With Hurricane Ian poised to bring "life-threatening storm surge and flooding and fierce winds" as it makes landfall in Florida, hospitals in the state are evacuating their patients, building flood walls, and more to prepare for the storm.

    Hurricane Ian approaches Florida

    For days, weather forecasters and Florida officials have warned that Hurricane Ian, which is currently a Category 4 storm, will likely bring "life-threatening storm surge and flooding and fierce winds," potentially putting millions of people at risk, CNN reports.

    As of Tuesday, more than 2.5 million Florida residents were under evacuation warnings, including 1.75 million people who were under mandatory evacuation orders. So far, there are mandatory evacuation orders in several counties that are part of the hurricane warning area, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Sarasota counties.

    "I implore, I urge everyone that is in an evacuation zone that has been asked to evacuate–the time is now. You must evacuate now. There will be a time when it will not be safe to travel the roads," said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

    "There will come a point in time when local public safety officials will not be able to respond to your cry for help. You may be left to fend for yourself," Guthrie added.

    According to the Washington Post, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has already declared a state of emergency over Hurricane Ian. Currently, the state has more than 30,000 linemen, urban search and rescue teams, and 7,000 National Guard members ready to assist with damage once the storm passes.

    People who can safely evacuate to shelters should do so as soon as possible, but for those in areas where evacuation is no longer possible, "[i]t's time to hunker down and prepare for the storm," DeSantis said. "Do what you need to do to stay safe."

    President Joe Biden has also approved DeSantis' request for emergency assistance, adding that the administration is "on alert and in action to help the people of Florida."

    How Florida hospitals are preparing for the hurricane

    With Hurricane Ian fast approaching, many hospitals have made advanced preparations to ensure the safety of their patients and keep their operations running smoothly even as the storm progresses.

    For example, Sarasota Memorial Health Care System began to mobilize its staff and made sure any backup communication systems were working days in advance. The health system has also instructed its hospitals to divide their staff into two teams: the A team will care for patients during the hurricane and the B team will relieve the A team after the hurricane is over.

    In addition, the health system has activated lockdown protocols, which means no new patients will be admitted but people can still be seen in the ED.

    "It's special here at Sarasota Memorial," said CEO David Verinder. "Whenever there's a crisis, people [in our hospital] run toward it, not away from it. So we have plenty of staff that's ready to come in if we need them."

    At Tampa General Hospital, a flood wall has been built around its campus, and HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital closed on Monday, transferring all 40 of its patients to other facilities by helicopter.

    AdventHealth has also made several preparations ahead of the storm, including cancelling non-emergency surgeries and transferring patients from one of its hospitals in North Pinellas to sister facilities in the region. The health system also discharged low-risk patients and moved patients who were not as clinically stable to other suitable facilities.

    David Banks, senior EVP and chief strategy and organizational transformation officer for AdventHealth, said the organization is prepared for events like hurricanes but will "monitor hour by hour" as the storm progresses.

    "Unfortunately, we get a lot of practice with this, so the hospital systems know what to do," Banks said. "Usually, in these situations, people become very collaborative and supportive. And the state agencies are very proactive in ensuring we have what we need to get through these kinds of situations."

    According to Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association (FHA), hospitals in the state are well-prepared for hurricanes since they routinely review emergency response plans that have been updated with lessons from previous storms.

    "These plans are also accompanied by active and regular drills to test their response systems, to evaluate their surge capacity and to evaluate their physical plan structure," Mayhew said.

    In addition, Mayhew said FHA regularly connects with county health officials, emergency management officials, and representatives from utility companies during hurricane season to prepare for potential storms.

    "We'll host statewide calls with all of our hospitals to ensure that we have effective statewide coordination and communication to support the local response efforts," Mayhew said. (Malhi, Washington Post, 9/27; Salahieh et al., CNN, 9/28; Kinery, AP/CNBC, 9/28; NBC News, 9/28)

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