As Hurricane Ian brought 155 mph winds to southwest Florida on Wednesday and was poised to wreak havoc across the state, 15 hospitals and 131 nursing homes and assisted living facilities evacuated patients and residents, while other facilities “folded in”.
State Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller told reporters early Wednesday afternoon that about 350 hospitalized patients, 3,508 residents at 40 nursing homes and 3,012 residents of 91 assisted living facilities had been evacuated.
Evacuating patients is a “big business” that includes airlifting people and using ambulances, Mary Mayhew, CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, told the News Service of Florida.
“Many hospitals will be locating their patients at their other sister facilities that are farther from the storm’s path,” Mayhew said Wednesday. “But, of course, any disruption to patients while on the move is handled with extreme care and caution to ensure that… their health and condition is protected at all times.”
Mayhew said the patients were being transported to facilities in southeast Florida as Ian had to travel northeast to midstate after making landfall in southwest Florida. It could go out of state around Daytona Beach.
The time window for evacuations closes when wind speeds increase, said Mayhew, a former secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration. As of Wednesday afternoon, the possibility of evacuation was virtually over for some hospitals.
When hospitals deal with storms as intense as Ian, which was a Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall, they assess “every aspect” of their facilities, Mayhew says, and not all hospitals need to completely evacuate.
“They are going to look at the possibilities of moving their patients inside the building to higher floors. But for any older buildings, or if they’re single-story buildings, that’s what can ultimately contribute to the need to evacuate,” Mayhew told the News Service.
The Agency for Healthcare Administration, which regulates hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, has asked facilities to use an online reporting system to provide details such as condition evacuation, the number of patients and residents, the beds available and the ability to generate emergency power.
Several major hospitals appeared Wednesday to be in areas that could be hit hard by the storm.
For example, Lee Health, which claims to be one of the largest public health systems in the United States, operates four acute care hospitals and two specialty hospitals in southwest Florida.
Lee Health is also part of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which represents public, academic, and children’s hospitals. Justin Senior, CEO of the alliance, said none of his organization’s member hospitals had been evacuated, including Lee Health.
“So they (Lee Health) are really, I’m sure, hunkered down right now, waiting for this thing to pass,” Senior said.
The alliance includes other major hospitals that may be affected to varying degrees, including Orlando Health, Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Tampa General Hospital and Halifax Health in Daytona. Beach.
“We have several (hospitals) that are going to be, ultimately are, (in) a direct line right now (with the storm). And then several more that will enter the hurricane line, we expect, in the next 24 to 36 hours,” said Senior, also a former Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Senior pointed to the sophisticated emergency management plans hospitals maintain and said communication with the state was key to their response to the storms.
“Each hospital is going to make sure they have generation capacity (electricity), fuel for generators, food and water and communicate with the state on what is working, what is not. not and what his needs are,” Senior said.
State officials expected widespread power outages due to the storm. At a 1 p.m. news conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis said 200,000 power outages had been reported. He called it a “drop in the ocean” compared to the number expected later.
In some situations, hospitals are receiving additional patients after storms, and the state has resources in place to be able to get people to facilities if they are injured in the hurricane.
The AHCA has put about 400 ambulances, paratransit buses and support vehicles on standby to respond to hurricane-damaged areas, state officials said Wednesday.
After the storm passes, hospitals and industry associations will coordinate with state officials to bring patients back to their facilities.
DeSantis said at a press conference Wednesday that he wants evacuees to be returned to their facilities as soon as the storm is no longer a threat.
“Especially in the Tampa area, I know we’ve had a lot of special needs evacuations, like we should have,” the governor said. “And they are going to feel the effects. But hopefully those patients can be brought back as soon as the storm passes.