Healthcare Business News

East Coast providers brace for Hurricane Irene

By Vince Galloro and Melanie Evans
Posted: August 26, 2011 - 3:00 pm ET

Healthcare providers along the East Coast from North Carolina to New England are preparing for the impact of Hurricane Irene, which is expected to make landfall in North Carolina Saturday and then move north along the coast.

University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, Greenville, N.C., owns, leases or is affiliated with eight hospitals that could be affected by Irene, spokeswoman Beth Anne Atkins said.

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The hospital most clearly in Irene's projected path is 19-bed Outer Banks Hospital, Nags Head, N.C., and that hospital is discharging or relocating all inpatients, Atkins said. Outer Banks Hospital plans to stay open for emergency care with a skeleton staff, but will close if Dare County emergency officials suggest it, she said.

Systemwide, some scheduled surgeries were postponed if they required an overnight stay, Atkins said. The system's hospitals have prepared areas for employees to spend the night if need be in order to work, Atkins said. The hospitals have stocked up on blood, medical gases, water, food and fuel for emergency vehicles, Atkins said. The system also removed a crane working on its children's hospital construction site in Greenville and shifted its three emergency helicopters to a hangar at an inland airport, she said.

Lockdowns scheduled

Farther south and away from the area where Irene is expected to make landfall, New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Wilmington, N.C., has scheduled lockdowns at its three area hospitals for 6 p.m. ET today, according to a news release. Outpatient sites were scheduled to close at 3 p.m. ET today. All elective surgeries and procedures scheduled for Saturday have been postponed.

In nearby Bolivia, N.C., officials at Novant Brunswick Community Hospital are glad that big storms bypassed the area over the past few years while their 74-bed replacement hospital was under construction, spokeswoman Amy Myers said. The hospital opened in July. The hospital isn't imposing a lockdown, but it will lock all doors except to the emergency department at 8 p.m. tonight and has asked staff members working Friday night and Saturday to make plans to stay at the hospital if necessary, Myers said.

Sentara Healthcare, Norfok, Va., evacuated 93 residents at its Sentara Nursing Center Currituck, Barco, N.C., pursuant to an evacuation order issued by Currituck County, according to a Sentara release.

Seven of Sentara's 10 hospitals are in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia near the coast, and they are stocking up on all the necessary supplies and have opened their incident command centers to deal with Irene, said Vicky Gray, senior vice president. Volunteers are offering child-care service for nurses who need to stay at their posts, Gray said. Their home-health agencies are in the process of visiting every patient by mid-morning Saturday, Gray said.

Sentara is expecting a lot of demand for urgent care after the storm passes, so its medical group is planning how to meet that demand, depending on which of its sites have electrical power, she added.

The storm is not expected to affect the relocation of Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va., to its replacement facility on Sunday, Gray said.

Water tanker brought in

Bon Secours Hampton Roads Health System, part of Bon Secours Health System, Marriottsville, Md., is allowing some family members of staff and patients to stay overnight Saturday, said Michael Kerner, CEO of Bon Secours Hampton Roads. Lynne Zultanky, a spokeswoman for Bon Secours Hampton Roads, said that with half of the U.S. Navy ships at Hampton Roads, Va., shipping out to clear out of the path of Irene, many female employees have no one to watch their children.

The local system also brought in a tanker of water to help meet the needs of dialysis patients whose outpatient centers are closing for the storm, as each dialysis treatment uses many gallons of water in the filtration process, Kerner said.

The system has three hospitals, two skilled-nursing facilities and two assisted-living facilities in the region, Kerner said.

N.Y.C. evacuation ordered

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered hospitals and nursing homes in highly flood-prone areas to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irene.

Bloomberg on Friday added two hospitals to five already named in the city's evacuation plan, which extended for the first time in history to households. Staten Island University Hospitals, a two-campus hospital in a low-lying area, said on its website roughly 360 patients would be transferred by the end of the day Friday. The Veterans Administration New York Harbor Healthcare System said its Manhattan Medical Center would transfer patients elsewhere in the system. Other hospitals included in the evacuation included New York University Langone Medical Center and Coney Island Hospital. Bloomberg said no hospitals sought exceptions allowed under the evacuation plan.

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