Florida hospitals continue to weather Hurricane Irma as it batters the coast; Recovery begins in the Caribbean

Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma battered the Caribbean late last weekend before moving to the western Florida coast. (Image: National Hurricane Center)

As Hurricane Irma continues to batter the Florida coast, the Department of Health and Human Services has begun recovery efforts in U.S. territories in the Caribbean while Floridian hospitals weather the storm.

An estimated three dozen hospitals in Florida have been forced to close or significantly cut back on operations, according to an article from Health Data Management. Flooding caused by storm surges and far-reaching power outages are the greatest challenges.

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Hospitals with large volumes of critically ill patients, like Tampa General Hospital, were forced to ride out the storm despite the storm surge risks, reports the Weather Channel. The hospital, located in a Level A evacuation zone, the most vulnerable, kept 800 patients and several hundred staff and family members on-site as the storm hit.

"We have at least 100 patients on ventilators and we are a burn center," Ellen Fiss, the hospital’s public relations director, said. "Moving these patients would have put their lives more at risk."

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Some Florida hospitals are pulling double duty as both healthcare facilities and evacuation shelters. The 716-bed NCH Healthcare System in Naples opened its doors to both patients and to hundreds of people seeking safe haven from the storm, reports Naples Daily News.

CEO Allen Weiss, M.D., called it “business as usual.”

Lee Health hospitals throughout southwest Florida also remained open during the storm, according to an article from the News Press.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted Sunday night that the 378-bed Hialeah Hospital was down to two hours of diesel generator power, though a hospital spokeswoman later refuted that statement to Local 10 News.

As the storm continues its way up the Florida coast, the recovery efforts has begun for some of the regions hit by Irma. Clearing roads to local hospitals is a key priority, according to a second Naples Daily News article.

HHS has also turned its eye to U.S. territories ravaged by Irma before it hit the lower 48. HHS and the Department of Defense have been to evacuate dialysis patients from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico to prevent life-threatening disruptions in their care.

“People who rely on dialysis are among the most medically vulnerable after natural disasters, and given the extent of the destruction on St. Thomas, we are very concerned about the health and safety of dialysis patients there right now,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, M.D. in announcement.

HHS emergency managers are also participating in search and rescue efforts, according to the announcement. The agency has also declared public health emergencies in Georgia and South Carolina as Irma continues to move north.