While Hurricane Dorian fades from the headlines, an AdventHealth doctor who has coordinated the healthcare system’s relief effort in the Bahamas says the commitment to help isn’t going away.
AdventHealth is now focused on helping rebuild Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport on Grand Bahama, one of the islands that bore the brunt of the Category 5 hurricane earlier this month, said Alric Simmonds, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer of AdventHealth East Orlando, in an interview with FierceHealthcare.
Simmonds made two trips to the Bahamas as soon as travel was possible along with other team members from the Florida-based health system. The team helped to bring emergency supplies and cared for patients. But he said AdventHealth is in it for the long run when it comes to helping in the Bahamas.
Rand Memorial Hospital, the main clinic in Freeport, had to evacuate patients including many in wheelchairs from the flooded facility in the middle of the hurricane. Water levels rose to about a foot and damaged the hospital.
“The hospital is going to require a massive rebuild,” said Simmonds. While many people look to help in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the next phase of recovery for the Bahamas is going to require financial giving, he said. That’s why AdventHealth has set up a fund to help the rebuilding effort at the hospital, to which Simmonds invites individuals and healthcare organizations to make donations. People who want to donate can do so at AdventHealth.com/Bahamas.
“Long after it becomes the current news cycle, they will still have those needs,” he said, as the island country rebuilds its healthcare system and homes.
The news photos and film that pictured the devastation in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian couldn’t capture what relief workers experienced on the ground, Simmonds said. “It’s actually worse,” he said.
As they stepped off the plane to the Bahamas, relief workers walked into the humidity and sweltering heat, he said. In many parts of Great Abaco Island, another area hardest hit, there was the stench of death or decay, as thousands of people are still missing and presumed drowned.
“Everywhere that the eye can cast, it’s destruction. It’s just absolutely devastated,” he said, as roofs from houses sit in driveways, furniture and other possessions tangled in the rafters.
The hurricane forced many of the medical clinics in the Bahamas to close along with pharmacies, leaving people without their usual care and medications, he said.
It’s not the first time he’s been to the scene after a disaster. Simmonds went to Haiti a week after the earthquake there and went to the Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma.
“Each one of these kinds of situations is a little bit different. This one, however, what we saw, it was pretty devastating. It rivaled the destruction you see after an earthquake,” he said.
With homes destroyed, eight or nine families are living in a single dwelling. Every few minutes, you can hear someone yelling because they’ve stepped on a nail as they move about the rubble left by the hurricane, he said.
AdventHealth, a faith-based, not-for-profit health care system based in Orlando, Florida, was in a unique position to respond to the emergency in the Bahamas, which is only an hour flight away, Simmonds said.
An assessment team of surgeons and emergency medicine physicians made the first trip accompanied by an initial shipment of supplies that included medications and bandages to help resupply a health clinic in Treasure Cay on Great Abaco Island. They brought everything from generators and plastic gas cans to surgical gloves and incubators.
On the second flight out, the team included an architect and engineer to begin assessing what it will take to rebuild Rand Memorial.
AdventHealth also plans to send teams of four to six emergency room doctors who will help on a rotating basis to provide care at the hospital and relieve physicians there.
While the Bahamas rebuilds from the hurricane, life goes on, Simmonds aid. “Babies are still being born. Kids are still getting ear infections,” he said, making it essential to get the healthcare system functioning.
“People are working very, very hard bringing a lot of resources to bear,” he said. The relief efforts fall into place with AdventHealth’s mission which is extending the healing ministry of Christ, he said. “It’s something we don’t just say but we try to live.”