Several hospitals across South Florida evacuated patients and shut down operations in advance of Hurricane Irma, according to a September 8, 2017, article in the Washington Post. Officials in Florida urged more than 7 million people to evacuate their homes before the storm, which hit the southern part of the state over the weekend of September 9 and 10. Nearly 1,900 patients had been evacuated from area hospitals as of the writing of a September 9, 2017, article in STAT News. A hospital in Naples served two roles in the aftermath of the storm: caring for patients who could not be evacuated and housing people who left their homes, all with power “flickering off and on" and backup generators being turned on, according to a September 10, 2017, article in the Naples Daily News. Double doors on the fourth and fifth floors separated evacuees from the providers and patients on the other side who, the article said, did not come into contact with each other. The article noted that evacuations and unpassable roads made the emergency rooms quieter than usual in the immediate aftermath of the storm, however that “will dramatically change" once county officials allow people to leave their homes. A Miami hospital stayed open but cancelled all elective surgeries and turned off electricity in its ancillary buildings, the Washington Post article said. The facility also encouraged women who were 35 weeks or more pregnant to come to the hospital before the storm “because spontaneous deliveries can happen when the barometric pressure plummets." Most remote hospitals, especially those in the Florida Keys, shut down and shuttered their buildings in advance of the storm, the Washington Post article said. A hospital in Coconut Grove began evacuating its patients on Wednesday. The chief executive officer of a large South Florida hospital group noted this was the first time it had closed a facility before a storm. A children's hospital in Fort Myers divided its nursing units into two teams, one that stayed in the hospital for the duration of the storm and one that relieved them as soon as the all-clear was received, according to a September 10, 2017, article on NPR.org. The first team was allowed to bring their families and pets to wait out the storm in the facility, the article said. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared public health emergencies in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, waiving or modifying certain Medicare and Medicaid requirements to ensure sufficient healthcare. HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Readiness on September 10, 2017, issued a draft emergency planning document for lessons learned from several recent hurricanes, including Katrina, Sandy, and Harvey. A resource released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration aims to help communities deal with mental health issues in the wake of disasters.
HRC Recommends: As more information and outcomes of facilities' emergency preparedness become available in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, risk managers and patient safety officers should remain alert to lessons learned from both good outcomes and adverse events related to facilities' emergency preparedness efforts. ECRI Institute has also launched a Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Resource Center, which offers a range of resources, publications, and tools to help healthcare facilities in this time of need.