Highlight on Florida: Hurricane causes hospital closures, requires extra support for vulnerable patients

Florida health care facilities were forced to make serious operating choices when Hurricane Matthew hit, and provided recommendations to the public that may be important during future emergency situations. In such situations, hospitals strive to allocate staffing and provisions to best meet patients’ needs, and rely on locals to seek shelter elsewhere.

Hospital closures, evacuations

The state of Florida faced some serious health care delivery concerns when Hurricane Matthew hit last week. Jackson Health System, a major hospital system in Miami, planned to operate as normally as possible, except for some clinics that closed Thursday and Friday. Broward Health, a five-hospital system, took the opposite approach and closed all hospitals except for emergencies and trauma patients. All outpatient procedures were canceled on Thursday and Friday. Baptist Health kept hospitals and emergency rooms open, but closed some of its centers. Cape Canaveral Hospital, Baptist Medical Center Beaches, and three Florida Hospital locations were forced to evacuate patients. Although Florida Hospital Flager remained opened for emergencies, Ormond Beach and New Smyrna Beach locations closed their ERs.

Storm considerations

Hospitals offered some advice for locals, and urged patients not to plan on using hospitals as a last-minute shelter option. One official said that every year, some individuals show up seeking to wait out the hurricane at the hospital, requiring staff to be diverted away from patient care. According to the Orlando Sentinel, counties established shelters for those with special needs that are staffed with nurses and have some equipment. Hospitals also warned that patients needing medications would not be able to pick them up at a hospital and would be forced to proceed through the ER to get prescriptions.

Jackson Health posted a special advisory for women planning to deliver their baby at one of its facilities, outlining who should report to the hospital when a hurricane warning takes effect. Women carrying multiple babies who are at least 34 weeks along, having a history of preterm labor, or have placental implantation issues at least 28 weeks into their pregnancy were encouraged to come to the hospital and be prepared for admission. Others were told to call their physician and report to the hospital if referred.

Other patients, such as those requiring oxygen and dialysis, were also particularly vulnerable in this situation. Over 500,000 such patients were in the hurricane’s path. Chen Senior Medical Centers identified many vulnerable patients and called them individually, asking about their conditions and needs. Oxygen was provided at no cost to those who needed it. There was also a federal Disaster Distress Helpline staffed to provide immediate crisis counseling.