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 had evacuated patients and residents while other facilities “were they stopped”.
State Health Agency Secretary Simon Marstiller told reporters early Wednesday afternoon that about 350 hospital patients, 3,508 residents of 40 nursing homes and 3,012 residents of 91 assisted living facilities had been evacuated.
Evacuating patients is a “significant undertaking” that involves transporting people by air and using ambulances, Florida Hospital Association Executive Director Mary Mayhew told The News Service of Florida.
“Many hospitals will relocate their patients to their other sister facilities that are further from the path of the storm,” Mayhew said Wednesday. “But of course any disruption to patients as they move is treated with the utmost care and caution to ensure that … their health and condition is protected at all times.”
Mayhew said patients were being transported to facilities in Southeast Florida as Ian was expected to move northeast into the center of the state after making landfall in Southwest Florida. It may exit the state around Daytona Beach.
The window for evacuations closes when wind speeds pick up, said Mayhew, the former secretary of the Agency for Health Care Management. As of Wednesday afternoon, the ability to evacuate has essentially ended for some hospitals.
When hospitals face storms as intense as Ian, which was a Category 4 hurricane at landfall, they evaluate “all aspects” of their facilities, according to Mayhew, and not every hospital needs to evacuate entirely.
“They will be looking for opportunities to move their patients within the building to higher floors.” But for any buildings that are older or may be single-story buildings, that could ultimately contribute to the need to evacuate,” Mayhew told the News Service.
The Health Care Administration Agency, which regulates hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, requested facilities use an online reporting system to provide details such as evacuation status, number of patients and residents, available beds and ability to generate backup power.
Several major hospitals appeared Wednesday in areas that could be hit hard by the storm.
As an example, Lee Health, which says it is one of the largest public health systems in the U.S., operates four acute care hospitals and two specialty hospitals in Southwest Florida.
Lee Health is also part of the Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents community, teaching and children’s hospitals. Justin Senior, the alliance’s chief executive officer, said none of his organization’s member hospitals were evacuated, including Lee Health.
“So they (Lee Health) are really, I’m sure, cowering right now, waiting for this thing to pass,” Senior said.
The alliance includes other major hospitals likely to 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 will be, end up being (in) a direct line right now (with the storm). And then several others that will come into the hurricane line, we expect, in the next 24 to 36 hours,” said Senior, also a former secretary of the Agency for Health Care Management.
Senior pointed to the complex emergency management plans hospitals maintain and said communication with the state is key to their storm response.
“Each hospital will make sure it has the capacity to generate (electricity), fuel for the generators, food and water and communicate with the state about what’s working, what’s not working and what its needs are,” Senior said.
State officials expected widespread power outages from the storm. During a media briefing at 1 p.m., Gov. Ron DeSantis said 200,000 power outages had been reported. He called this a “drop in the bucket” compared to the number expected later.
In some situations, hospitals are accepting additional patients after storms, and the state has the resources to get people to the facilities if they are injured by the hurricane.
AHCA has put about 400 ambulances, paratransit buses and utility vehicles on standby to respond to areas damaged by the hurricane, state officials said Wednesday.
After the storm passes, hospitals and industry associations will coordinate with state officials to transport patients back to their facilities.
DeSantis said during a media briefing Wednesday that he wants evacuees 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, as we should have,” the governor said. “And they will feel the effects of it. But I hope that these patients will be able to be brought back as soon as the storm passes.”