Florida Hospitals Hit by Ian Scramble to Evacuate Patients

Florida Hospitals Hit by Ian Scramble to Evacuate Patients

As water cascaded through the roof and down the stairwell of a Port Charlotte hospital on Wednesday, it became clear to doctors that moving intensive care patients to other floors would no longer keep them safe.

Staff members at the facility, HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, north of Fort Myers, waded through floating ceiling tiles and medical equipment, their scrubs rolled up to their knees, as they transferred 160 remaining patients to nearby hospitals.

Threatened by rising floodwater and utility outages in the Fort Myers region, officials at a number of hospitals and nursing homes had to make quick decisions to move hundreds of patients to safer ground.

Even hospitals that weren’t inundated are facing serious problems. Water utilities in Lee County were permanently damaged, officials said, and at least nine hospitals lost access to potable water. The facilities were “fast approaching a point where they will not be able to safely take care of their patients,” Mary Mayhew, the president of the Florida Hospital Association, said on Thursday.

Lee Health, the largest health care provider in the county, is scheduled to evacuate about 400 patients to facilities in Naples or elsewhere in the state, according to Dr. Larry Antonucci, the chief executive of the health system. Its pediatric facility, Golisano Children’s Hospital, is without water and has begun transferring fragile newborns.

The system’s emergency departments had over 130 visitors waiting for beds as of Friday morning, and more were expected. The emergency room at Gulf Coast Medical Center had seen about 70 storm-related injuries — most of them minor lacerations — but expected more severe injuries to begin arriving as the day wore on.

And even when patients are ready for discharge, Dr. Antonucci said, “they don’t have any safe place to go.”

Dialysis treatment, which requires large volumes of clean water, posed a major challenge at Lee Health, and the hospital system referred some patients to the five operating dialysis centers nearby. The water supply and power loss have put “incredible strain on our health system,” Dr. Antonucci said. “We cannot run a health system without running water.”

At HealthPark Medical Center in Fort Myers, four feet of water in the parking lot pooled against the hospital’s doors. Officials relocated the emergency department to the third floor.

Nursing homes in the region were struck badly as well. Rescue teams waded through floodwaters to ferry hundreds of assisted living facility residents and staff to safety. Outside the Life Care Center of Orlando, workers dragged wheelchairs and stretchers through flooded parking lots, their fluorescent vests flapping in the wind.

More than 40 nursing home facilities have evacuated at least 3,400 residents, according to the Florida Health Care Association.

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