Hurricane Matthew slams Florida and hospitals brace for impact

Natural disaster preparedness

As Hurricane Matthew moves through the southeastern coast of the U.S. today and this weekend, hospitals in the region get ready to handle the dangers a natural disaster can bring.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina on Thursday as the storm moved closer to the coastal regions.

In Florida, some hospitals chose to close completely to weather the hurricane, according to an article from NBC Miami. Jackson Health System continued regular operations at its hospitals, but not its primary care care clinics and other facilities, the publication said. The system issued an alert to pregnant women who plan to deliver their babies at a Jackson hospital, advising them to check with their doctors before making the trip to the hospital during the storm.

University of Miami Hospital prepared for the possibility of being unreachable for several days, its chief operating officer Kymberlee Manni told ABC News. The hospital, which has a hurricane preparedness team, has agreements with supply companies to ensure the organization is one of the first stops for fuel and other needed supplies when roads clear.

"Typically, we plan for five to seven days if we have to shelter in place," Manni told ABC News. "We planned for the absolute maximum impact on this one."

Broward Health, one of the largest systems in the country, closed all five of its hospitals in Florida, according to an article from CNBC, and canceled all outpatient procedures for Thursday and Friday due to the extreme weather conditions.

Two Baptist Health hospitals in Jacksonville evacuated patients, according to ABC News, though three others in the system remained open to treat anyone injured in the storm. The health system’s Planned Emergency Response Team will be on hand to treat patients throughout the hurricane and after, spokesperson Cindy Hamilton told ABC News.

Jacksonville hospitals also have restricted the number of visitors patients may have, according to The Florida Times-Union. Baptist hospitals will allow adult patients one visitor and pediatric patients two, the newspaper reported.

Hurricane Matthew is expected to reach Georgia and South Carolina this weekend, and hospitals in those states have also begun evacuations and planning for the potential disaster. In South Carolina, hospitals located outside the state-mandated evacuation zones are ready to treat patients that may be injured in the worst of the storm, reports GreenvilleOnline. The South Carolina Hospital Association has an emergency operations center it puts into action during hurricanes that will connect hospitals with needed information and supplies.

“We provide an avenue for them to ask questions and receive critical information related to healthcare facilities,” SCHA spokesperson Schipp Ames told GreenvilleOnline, “as well as provide an arena for them to coordinate patient transfers and resources if needed.”

Linda Landesman, Ph.D., author of “Public Health Management of Disasters: The Practice Guide,” told Medscape Medical News  she advises health facilities that need to evacuate to:

  • Inform patients about office closures and make sure they know where they can receive care in the meantime
  • Ensure contact information for staff members is up to date
  • Back up digital clinical and billing data, and ensure paper documents are boxed up and stored
  • Take vital documents like leases and payroll information with you when you leave
  • Take vaccines and medications