Eight hospitals evacuate patients in wake of Hurricane Michael
Eight Florida hospitals evacuated patients in the wake of Hurricane Michael as of Friday afternoon, five of which remain open for emergency services, according to the Florida Hospital Association.
"Patients from impacted communities have been air lifted or transported via ambulance from damaged healthcare facilities to receiving hospitals," Monica Corbett, a Florida Hospital Association spokeswoman, wrote in an email. "This will continue until all patients have been evacuated to safety."
Hospitals that have evacuated patients and remain closed include Universal Health Services' Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital in Fort Walton Beach, Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Panama City and George E. Weems Memorial Hospital in Apalachicola.
The five hospitals that have evacuated patients but remain open for emergency patients are Bay Medical Sacred Heart in Panama City, Calhoun Liberty Hospital in Blountstown, Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City, Jackson Hospital in Marianna and Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf in Port St. Joe.
The first area of focus in the response effort has been clearing roads so that first responders can access impacted areas, Corbett said.
HCA Healthcare's Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City Friday morning completed its evacuation of 139 patients. They were transferred by aircraft, helicopter and ambulance to sister HCA facilities in Florida.
HCA spokesman Harlow Sumerford wrote in an email that the company sent extra staff to its hospitals in the Panhandle to help them care for an influx of patients. Gulf Coast Regional's emergency department remains open, and it continued to receive patients both during and after the storm.
Hurricane Michael inflicted "significant damage" on Gulf Coast Regional and wiped out public utilities. The hospital is currently operating on generator power.
"We continue to assess the damage and have already begun repairs," Sumerford wrote. He added that a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team is on-site to augment its emergency services.
Meanwhile, in Fort Walton Beach about two hours away from Panama City, Universal Health Services is evacuating patients from its behavioral health facility, Emerald Coast Behavioral Health, to other behavioral health facilities in the region because of storm damage the facility sustained, spokeswoman Jane Crawford wrote in an email. Emerald Coast provides acute inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services. Crawford said the patients are being transferred using registered and secured transportation.
"Receiving facilities are standing by ready to accept patients and provide the care and services needed," she wrote.
HCA has set up three shelters—in Panama City, Niceville and Fort Walton Beach—for hundreds of its employees whose homes were damaged. The hospital chain has about 6,700 employees in the region that spans from Lake City, Fla. to Pensacola, Fla., all of whom were determined to be safe following the storm. The company will continue to pay employees as it works to repair damage, Sumerford wrote.
Over the coming weekend, human resources staff in the affected areas will provide support to employees. The HCA Hope Fund, an employee-run, employee-supported relief fund that provides financial aid in times of disaster, is accepting applications for emergency and recovery assistance.
Gulf Coast Regional was one of two hospitals that closed on Thursday. The other was Bay Medical Sacred Heart, also in Panama City, which transferred about 200 patients to hospitals in Pensacola and Jacksonville, and to Mobile, Ala.
Community Health Systems, which had 10 hospitals in the path of the storm in Florida, Alabama and Georgia, was able to keep all of its hospitals operating without interruption throughout the storm, according to a spokeswoman.
"Leadership and staff at hospitals in hurricane prone communities are experienced in preparing for and operating through storms," CHS' Rebecca Ayer wrote in an email. "They've been tested over time and know their priority in any situation is protecting the safety of patients and the employees and physicians who provide care."
Hurricane Michael hit at a bad time for health systems, which are typically busy providing elective services this time of year as patients meet their health insurance deductibles. Even so, the healthcare investment bank Leerink Partners projected investor-owned hospital chains like CHS, HCA and UHS would see less than a 0.5% hit to their projected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in the quarter as a result of the storm.
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