Hospitals hunkering down for Irma as post-Harvey recovery continues

Hospital Safety Insider, September 7, 2017

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Healthcare facilities in the Houston region have largely returned to normal operations as cleanup continues, less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall and dumped more than 4 feet of rain in some areas. 

Unfortunately, it looks like the historic storm that battered southeast Texas and parts of Louisiana will soon be followed by another major hurricane with its sights set on shores a bit farther east. States of emergency were declared in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina as Hurricane Irma, which attained Category 5 status as it approached Puerto Rico, could make landfall in the continental U.S. this weekend.

“In Florida, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best[,] and while the exact path of Irma is not absolutely known at this time, we cannot afford to not be prepared,” Gov. Rick Scott said Monday in a statement. “This state of emergency allows our emergency management officials to act swiftly in the best interest of Floridians without the burden of bureaucracy or red tape.”

In southern Florida, at least three hospitals had reportedly begun evacuating patients as of Wednesday afternoon: Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West, Mariners Hospital in Tavernier, and Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon.

“There’s a fear factor I haven’t personally observed before,” Wayne Brackin, chief operating officer of Baptist Health South Florida in the greater Miami area, told STAT’s Max Blau. “The magnitude of the storm and the vulnerability of the Keys make [the closures] an extraordinary decision for us.”

In central Florida, Adventist Health’s Florida Hospital System was among those collecting supplies in case Irma knocks out the electricity as far north as the Orlando metro area.

“We have stockpiled thousands of gallons of water, generators are standing by to run the hospital on emergency power if necessary, and sandbags have been deployed to secure doors and windows,” the system said Tuesday in a statement. “Family members of patients can rest assured that the hospital will be a safe place for their loved ones during the storm.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in six coastal counties, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster held a press conference Wednesday afternoon after declaring an emergency in his state as well.

The proactive preparations come as Houston continues to recover from Harvey, which forced the evacuation of some 1,500 patients due to flooding. Despite the interruption, nearly all affected hospitals are expected to be fully operational again by the end of September, according to Darrell Pile, chief executive of the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council (SETRAC), which coordinated efforts among medical facilities during the worst of the storm’s aftermath.

“The majority of our hospitals stayed open,” Pile told STAT.The teamwork of hospitals and EMS agencies through our coalition kept it from becoming an even bigger disaster.”

About two dozen hospitals affected by Harvey declared an “internal disaster,” which helped SETRAC pass timely information along to first responders who could divert incoming patients to other facilities when needed, Pile said.

For those facilities affected directly by floodwater, the recovery process entails a thorough inspection and cleaning. A checklist put together by the CDC for healthcare facilities reopening after extensive water and wind damage demonstrates just how daunting the process can be. Each affected area—from lab spaces to OR suites, burn units, and pharmacies—has its own risks to consider. Ensuring that each risk has been addressed can be particularly challenging in an environment with so much overlapping oversight from regulatory and accrediting bodies. (A PDF version of the checklist is available for download at the top and bottom of this page.)

For more information on how to prepare for a public health emergency, be sure to review materials from the CDC and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. For more information on how to help healthcare workers affected by Harvey, visit the Texas Hospital Association website.

For the latest on Hurricane Irma, check the National Hurricane Center website:

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