March 15, 2018

Florida hospitals offer lessons from Hurricane Irma: Prepare for crowds seeking shelter, support employees

by Paige Minemyer, Associate Editor of FierceHealthcare | Read full article

A major natural disaster poses a unique challenge to hospitals—even in Florida where the community has plenty of experience dealing with extreme weather events.

Susan Grimwood, director of clinical logistics, patient flow and observation services at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, told FierceHealthcare in an interview that although the hospital has protocols in place to react to a hurricane, they weren’t prepared for the Category 5 strength of Hurricane Irma when it struck the Atlantic region in late August last year.

The 829-bed hospital was forced to conduct an internal evacuation, moving patients, boarders and staff into more hurricane-hardened parts of the facility.

Michele Earnest, senior business analyst for Brevard County-based health system Health First, said it faced a similar problem when a major leak at its command center forced an evacuation for which it wasn’t prepared.

Moving the hurricane command center forced the emergency response team to confront unfamiliar systems and other issues while simultaneously dealing with the effects of the storm, she said.

“Your equipment may not be the same setups,” Earnest said. “Logistically, we didn’t count on or plan for that.”

Due in part to the strength of the storm, many Florida hospitals were magnets for people who didn’t need medical care but were desperately seeking shelter, said Lisa Maples, R.N., director of centralized patient logistics, registration and the access center for Health First.

 The hospital set up a special needs shelter to serve those arrivals separately from patients seeking care. But it was difficult to decide when it might be safe to send boarders home, she said.


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