September 3, 2019

How hospitals are preparing for Hurricane Dorian's wrath

Daily Briefing

    As Hurricane Dorian approaches the United States, here's how hospitals up the Atlantic coast are preparing for the powerful storm.

    From outbreaks to hurricanes: How can hospitals prepare for disasters?

    Details on the hurricane

    According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, Dorian was "planted" over Grand Bahama Island early Tuesday. The storm had approached the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, but as of 8 a.m. ET Tuesday, the storm was a Category 3, with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, according to the center.

    Dorian is expected to reach Florida late on Tuesday, though the National Hurricane Center said it's not yet clear if the hurricane will strike Florida directly or if it will remain in the ocean on coastal line.

    "The core of extremely dangerous Hurricane Dorian will continue to pound Grand Bahama Island today," the center said. "The hurricane will then move dangerously close to the Florida east coast late today through Wednesday evening, very near the Georgia and South Carolina coasts Wednesday night and Thursday, and near or over the North Carolina coast late Thursday."

    The center added that, while "gradual weakening is forecast, Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days."

    Jeff Masters, meteorology director at Weather Underground called the storm "unprecedented" and said, "We've never had a Category 5 stall for so long in the Atlantic hurricane record."

    Evacuations have been ordered in parts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, according to the Associated Press.

    How hospitals are preparing for the storm

    Several major health systems in Florida have announced special plans for operations during the storm.

    For instance, the University of Miami Health System said it is closely monitoring the storm and that all clinical operations at the following locations will be closed Tuesday:

    • UHealth—University of Miami Health System at Boca Raton;
    • UHealth—University of Miami Health System at Palm Beach Gardens;
    • Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at Palm Beach Gardens;
    • UHealth Clinic at Walgreens in Boca Raton; and
    • UHealth Clinic at Walgreens in Delray Beach.

    In addition, the following hospitals will be closed on Tuesday, according to the Orlando Sentinel:

    • All GuideWell Emergency Doctors locations in Winter Park, Ocoee, and Orlando;
    • Sanitas Medical Centers in Seminole, Orange, and Osceola counties;
    • All Florida Health Care Plan medical facilities in Brevard, Volusia, Flagler, and Seminole counties;
    • All Florida Blue Centers in Central Florida;
    • AdventHealth Medical Group;
    • AdventHealth Infusion and Radiation Treatment Centers;
    • AdventHealth Outpatient Imaging, Outpatient Lab, and Outpatient Rehab;
    • AdventHealth Diabetes Institute; and
    • The Orlando VA Healthcare System.

    Universal Health Services (UHS) said it is closely monitoring the storm and ensuring preparations are made, including stocking on food, water, linens, fuel, medications, and staff.

    Jane Crawford, a spokesperson for UHS, said, "If evacuation orders are called in the areas in which we have facilities, we will comply with those orders. We will ensure the safety of our patients and staff by temporarily relocating them to other appropriate facilities in safe areas."

    Harlow Sumerford, a spokesperson for HCA, said the company is supporting its hospitals that may be in the path of the storm. "Our preparedness activities include ensuring our hospitals have enough staff, medications, supplies, food, water and a generator power to continue to operate and care for our patients during and after the storm," Sumerford said.

    Florida Blue announced that it has teamed up with Teledoc to provide no-cost non-emergency telehealth care to Florida residents during the storm. Similarly, AdventHealth is waiving its $49 fee for its telehealth service, eCare, effective Monday afternoon and throughout the storm.

    In South Carolina, about 175 coastal hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living centers are under a state-ordered evacuation, the Charleston Post-Courier reports.

    CMS waives certain enrollment requirements

    CMS has announced that it will waive certain Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP requirements for those affected by the hurricane, and will be creating special enrollment opportunities for patients to access health care quickly. CMS also said it's taking steps to ensure dialysis patients have access to critical life-saving care.

    CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a statement said that the agency "will partner and coordinate with state, federal, and local officials to make sure that in the midst of all of the uncertainty a natural disaster can bring, our beneficiaries will not have to worry about access to health care and other crucial life-saving and sustaining services they may need" (AP/CBS News, 9/3; Kommers, Becker's Clinical Leadership & Infection Control, 8/30; Lovelace, CNBC, 8/29; CMS release, 8/30; Cleveland Clinic Martin Health release, 9/3; Miller, Orlando Sentinel, 9/2; University of Miami Health System release, 9/2; Charleston Post-Courier, 9/2).

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