In midst of hurricane season, Jacksonville-area hospitals evaluating disaster plans

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hospitals across the country are dealing with a large number of COVID-19 patients, and the situation is especially difficult in New Orleans where Hurricane Ida left power outages.

In Jacksonville, hospitals are monitoring reports of what’s happening in New Orleans hospitals and evaluating their disaster plans. Louisiana hospitals in the path of Category 4 Hurricane Ida were forced to evacuate dozens of patients. Some had their roofs torn and were relying on emergency generators for electricity.

Dr. David Caro, UF Health Jacksonville’s disaster medical officer, says the size and category of an approaching storm will dictate how the hospital operates.

“A tropical storm or a Category 1 hurricane will have flood damage and trees down, but in general, most of the hospitals in the area would be able to continue their normal function,” Caro explained.

A Category 2 hurricane or higher, however, presents greater challenges.

“Then we start to think about moving patients out of the city,” Caro explained. “This is a little bit concerning because obviously with the pandemic that is going on right now, all of the hospitals in the region are being affected by the number of COVID patients coming in.”

UF Health said it recently upgraded its diesel engine generators to power the hospital up to 72-hours should the electricity grid go down. The hospital says it is also well-stocked with critical care equipment.

Caro said Jacksonville’s Delta variant cases in hospitals appear to be peaking and that the number of infected adult patients at the hospitals in the area are slightly down. However, he said pediatric infections among children who are too young to be vaccinated are on the rise, which he hopes will not lead to another wave.

Baptist Health released a statement that reads:

“We have invested in facility upgrades at our campuses to be able to withstand hurricanes without jeopardizing patient or team member safety. These upgrades include, among others, hardened flood doors and shutters to prevent flooding; elevating generators, coolers and other critical gear above the flood plain or housing them in hurricane-rated enclosures; upgrading window glazing to a wind rating that can withstand direct impact from debris; etc.”

“With a high population of patients due to COVID-19, we have taken appropriate steps to support sheltering in place at our hospitals in the event of a hurricane versus evacuation. However, if an evacuation is necessary, the Baptist Emergency Management Team will coordinate with the appropriate local Emergency Management offices to ensure a safe transition to other facilities for our patients and team members”.

A request for comment was not immediately returned by Memorial Hospital.

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