Amid the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian, workers at DispatchHealth received a call for an 82-year-old man stuck in his home and in need of medical treatment for swollen legs and shortness of breath.
Power was down at the man’s Lee County home in southwest Florida, leaving him unable to elevate his legs in his electric recliner or turn on the air conditioning, and his usual physical therapy and wound care service teams could not reach him because of the storm, said Dr. Adam Perry, Florida regional medical director for DispatchHealth, a Denver-based home healthcare company.
“That's just how quickly things change when the power goes out for older adults who have complex medical needs and rely on other people to help them,” he said.
Luckily, members of DispatchHealth’s team were able to implement their emergency management plan, delivering medication and providing the level of care the man needed in his own home, Perry said.
Hurricanes pose great risk to patient safety and quality as severe flooding can cause homes and hospitals to lose access to clean water, power and other resources needed for treatment.
Across Florida, more than 100 people died because of Hurricane Ian, many of whom drowned or couldn't access medical care, according to reporting by the Washington Post.
Because the Sunshine State frequently confronts extreme weather, most hospitals have detailed processes in place to ensure safe, high-quality care during such disasters, from patient transfer and care continuity plans to remote monitoring teams and strategic partnerships, said Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association.
“The care and safety of hospital patients is absolutely the number one priority as emergency management plans are continually improved upon,” Mayhew said. During power outages, for example, all Florida hospitals have generators that are regularly tested and most have access to alternate sources of fresh water, either from tank trucks or local ponds, she said.
Coordination between the state, counties and hospital command centers is essential to account for all staffed beds that are open for patients who need to be evacuated, as well as the ground and air transport available, Mayhew said.
Before Hurricane Ian made landfall, HCA Healthcare leaders were determining what hospitals would likely face the greatest risk of damage from flooding and storm surges. They also mobilized the Nashville, Tennessee-based for-profit health system’s supply chain to deliver bedding supplies, food, water, oxygen and medications.
The health system used data analytics to identify high-acuity patients based on age, physical characteristics and whether they were in intensive care units or on certain intravenous drips, said Dr. Ravi Chari, president of HCA Healthcare’s West Florida Division.
HCA Healthcare hospitals share an electronic health records system, so clinical teams receiving transfer patients were able to access medical histories, treatment protocols and medications to provide seamless care, Chari said.
HCA Healthcare evacuated four hospitals in the days before Hurricane Ian, Chari said. The company worked with facilities and emergency medical service teams in nearby counties to determine the safe and effective ways to transfer 270 patients, he said.