Hospitals are there when we need them, right? It’s expected that if you have a dire emergency a hospital nearby will be open and operating all hours, day and night. What happens when drastic weather events, such as hurricanes, put a strain on resources and cause significant problems for hospital operations?

Maybe you did not already know this, but sometimes hospitals close – which is really an extreme action from them to take. Just before Hurricane Irma arrived in 2017, several hospitals in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina did, in fact, close.

Because Florida has more than 300 hospitals and a higher population of older adults than any other state, emergency plans for Florida’s hospitals were huge issues faced by healthcare organizations during previous strong storms. Today, these facilities prepare for hurricane Dorian.

When planning for disastrous events, hospitals can look at previous catastrophes to help them make preparations. By any means possible, hospitals will do their best to stay open and provide care for patients already hospitalized and those who may suffer an illness or injury as a result of the storm. Here is how Florida hospitals prepare for Hurricane Dorian.

Adequate Planning is Key

Preparation is literally everything when it comes to disaster planning. Every single hospital is required to have an approved emergency plan in place. When push comes to shove, the leadership of emergency planning and the hospital director are ultimately responsible for the implementation of a disaster plan.

Typically, hospital administration convenes a “top leadership team” and they will activate the hospital’s Incident Command Center (ICC). It will be up to the team members to make the proper coordinations with weather experts, local law enforcement, ambulance companies, local governments, and first responders. Furthermore, the team would also be in charge of communicating with patients and family members.

What is the most difficult decision faced by the leadership of a hospital when facing a disaster? It’s whether they should evacuate some or all of the patients.

Right before a storm hits, hospitals can decide to “shelter in place” which means that they prepare the hospital and all the patients and staff “batten down the hatches” and remain inside the hospital or they can decide to perform a full-scale evacuation. Many hospitals in the Florida Keys, Miami, Jacksonville, and Tampa did evacuate just before Irma hit. It is very rare that a hospital makes the decision to perform a full-scale evacuation in which the patients would be transported to another location. This scenario is very costly, rare, and hard on the patients.

Another option hospitals have is to transfer only the patients that are at very high risk if a power outage should occur. A Savannah hospital decided to make this move when they transferred newborns to hospitals in Atlanta.

Hurricanes are a bit unique when it comes to disastrous weather events because they can be expected. Other events, such as earthquakes, happen spontaneously. In the event that a hurricane is predicted, hospital leaders will focus on making plans for “zero hour,” which is when the hurricane is set to make landfall.

When a hospital decides to weather the storm, supplies and medical equipment must be moved to higher floors in case of flooding. There is always the threat of vandals and looters so security must be on hand at all times. All the while, patients need to receive care.

When a patient is able to be discharged before a storm, they are. New patients are not admitted and surgeries that are elective in nature are canceled. Pregnant women and high-risk patients can be transferred but this decision is not made lightly as the process could produce shock.

Getting Prepared for the Worst

When preparing for the worst-case scenario, the medical staff which consists of doctors, nurses, and technicians are usually divided into two teams. “A team” would be in place in the hospital when the disaster strikes and “B Team” would be on standby to report after the disaster strikes to provide relief to the other team. Sometimes B Team is already at the hospital when the event occurs to relieve A team when needed.

It depends on the particular hospital’s policies but in some places, employees may be allowed to bring family members or pets with them to the hospital. This is allowed because past experience shows with this type of practice in place, there is a greater likelihood that they will report to work when facing a disaster rather than flee.

Handling Chaos Following the Storm

There are important decisions regarding patient care that need to be made after the storm. If a hospital would decide to evacuate after a storm, there would be challenging aftermath conditions, which makes it easier to evacuate before a storm. Following the unprecedented flooding in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina, there were very dangerous hospital evacuations that took place. It must be taken into account that transportation services may not be available following a disastrous weather event.

Following a major weather event, hospitals might suffer power loss. Emergency plans pull into place power backup. Uninterrupted power is critical because some patients need it to power life-saving equipment.

Furthermore, in southern states that have high temperatures, air conditioning is a must for patient comfort. So southern states have a backup plan to ensure air conditioning, if possible.

One of the most important things hospitals must consider is how to be self-sufficient in case first responders cannot reach them. They need to have supplies on hand, such as plenty of water, food, and medicine. While emergency supplies are always stocked in a hospital, if there is a real threat of an extreme event, hospitals must order even more in advance.

Now Hiring Travel Nurses for Hurricane Dorian

Many hospitals and healthcare facilities are hiring travel nurses on an immediate basis. Because this need for travel nurses is on such short-term notice, there are prime opportunities available for high-pay rates in the state of Florida. Keep in mind that Florida travel nurses often do not make the highest salaries because so many nurses want to travel to this state for a vacation, but right now is the time to get paid very well as a travel nurse in Florida.

Are you interested? We want to hear from you. Call us today at 208-378-1338 to speak with one of our travel nursing specialists.

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Written by Miranda Booher, RN

As a twelve-year Registered Nurse with a healthy background in travel nursing and healthcare marketing, Miranda brings an interesting combination of stellar copywriting skills and first-hand nursing experience to the table. Miranda understands the industry and has a impeccable ability to write about it. And speaking of travel - Miranda currently lives in Uruguay, though she maintains an active Registered Nurse license in the state of Ohio and stays current on the latest healthcare news through her writing. When she is not creating killer copy, or serving others through her work as a nurse, you can find her hanging out on the beach with her loyal husband, three crazy kids, and their beautiful German Shepherd-Husky dog.

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