Healthcare providers along the East Coast from North Carolina to New England girded themselves for an expected beating from Hurricane Irene, which was on track to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday and then move north along the coast.
The precautions included a mandatory evacuation of hospitals and nursing homes in low-lying areas of New York City. HHS activated the National Disaster Medical System and U.S. Public Health Service to provide medical teams, public health teams and hospital support.
The scene was all too familiar for Leslie Hirsch, president and CEO of Denville, N.J.-based St. Clare's Health System (part of Catholic Health Initiatives), who started as CEO of New Orleans-based Touro Infirmary one week before Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in August 2005. Hirsch is now preparing his system for this hurricane after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency.
“Our command center is in full operation,” Hirsch said. “We're in disaster-alert mode,” he said, adding that first and foremost, St. Clare's is assessing its patient census. “We've cut off elective surgeries and elective admissions.” St. Clare's will also accelerate—where appropriate—patient discharges, he said.
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. The one most clearly in Irene's projected path is 19-bed Outer Banks Hospital, Nags Head, N.C., and that hospital was discharging or relocating all inpatients, Atkins said. Outer Banks Hospital planned to stay open for emergency care with a skeleton staff, and close if Dare County emergency officials suggested it, she said.