The COO of Baptist Health South Florida took matters into his own hands when he drove directly into Hurricane Irma to evacuate a chief nursing officer from the Florida Keys during Hurricane Irma.
Hurricane Irma was going to be big and potentially catastrophic. I think that was causing a lot of people in South Florida to flash back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
It's not just getting through the storm, it is the aftermath; the aftermath of Andrew was a huge dislocation. The severely damaged economy and population shift really altered the southern part of the county.
I caught myself jumping ahead to the aftermath, which is really not helpful when you're right in the midst of trying to get ready for what was about to happen.
We evacuated the two hospitals in the Keys, which were under a mandatory evacuation.
I haven't really told this tale yet, but we have one chief nursing officer, Cheryl Cotrell at Mariners Hospital and Fishermen's Community Hospital, who's lived in the Keys most of her life. The other chief nursing officers got in touch with me and told me that she had not evacuated; she was down there partly for some family issues.
I was at Homestead Hospital, the closest mainland hospital to the Keys. I called her and spent an hour or two trying to persuade her that she needed to get out of there.
I ended up driving down there myself. It was a harrowing drive. To be honest with you, I was about halfway down there and I started wondering if it was a good idea. There's a two-lane, 18-mile stretch that connects the mainland to the Keys. At best, it is at sea level. A couple of times big waves slammed into my car.
When I arrived, Cotrell was standing there with her little suitcase and we drove around all kinds of debris and crap to get out.
After the storm, we were able to secure a civilian version of a Black Hawk helicopter through the governor's office and they took myself, the chief medical officer for Fishermen's and Mariners hospitals, the CNO and some engineers down to do a quick assessment.
You could see destruction from the air starting from Key Largo, and the farther south we traveled the worse it looked. By the time we got to Islamorada, it started to be Andrew-level devastation.
At Fishermen's hospital, boats had washed up all around the back of the facility. Mariners was built to take a very significant storm surge. The grounds were in ruins, but the building itself looked fairly intact.
Even though the hospital was closed, we started seeing patients in the parking lot. We were able to treat those patients and then evacuate them out of there.
Between Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, it's easy for people to move on to the next thing. But there's still a very significant need in the Keys. And we're meeting it. We have two of the three hospitals there. But one of them, in the middle Keys, is still a field hospital and a temporary facility. So you know the aftermath will go on for some time. It's just a reminder that people are still in need and if you can help them, you should.