TALLAHASSEE — More than 30 health-care facilities had to be evacuated as Hurricane Michael damaged buildings and knocked out electricity in the Panhandle, state emergency management officials said Friday.
Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior told The News Service of Florida that several small critical-care access hospitals were evacuated before Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday in Mexico Beach, between Panama City and Apalachicola. The powerful Category 4 storm caused widespread damage as it tore through parts of the Panhandle and Big Bend.
Health-care facilities, including the 323-bed Bay Medical Sacred Heart hospital in Panama City, were still in the process of evacuation Friday morning.
Also, an estimated 1,600 residents had been evacuated or were in the process of being evacuated from 14 nursing homes, according to the Florida Health Care Association, a statewide nursing-home group. Ten nursing homes were evacuated before Michael hit, while evacuations began after the storm at the other four facilities.
Senior said all the patients in the intensive care unit at Bay Medical Sacred Heart had been evacuated and moved to other hospitals with the assistance of ambulances. Senior said as of Friday morning that there were “more staff than patients” still at the hospital.
“They were hoping to ride it out,” Senior said of the hospital. “It’s very localized, the damage. I don’t know if it was the storm itself or a tornado.”
Bay Medical Sacred Heart’s website featured a large message Friday morning saying, “For families wishing to locate patients who have been transferred to other hospitals, please call: 1-888-727-4568.”
During a stop Thursday at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who lives in Panama City, lamented the damage caused to health-care facilities in the area.
“The way the storm hit, we’re going to have approximately 10 hospitals that are going to have to be evacuated,” Patronis said. “Gulf Coast (Regional) Medical Center where my kids were born, Bay Medical Center where I was born, they’re empty, because they can’t support their mission.”
Senior said Friday the state will shift its focus from helping transfer patients to ensuring that facilities that were evacuated are safe to reopen.
“People think of us as having doctors and nurses,” he said. “But we have architects and engineers and we need to make sure we make the reopening process as smooth as possible and as safe as possible.”
Senior did not immediately know the numbers of patients who were transferred but said the majority involved nursing home residents.
State and local officials have sought to avoid a repeat of problems last year that authorities say led to the deaths of Broward County nursing-home residents after Hurricane Irma. The deaths came after The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills lost its air-conditioning system in Irma.
Overall, thousands of people had been reported missing because of the storm. But the numbers encapsulate all the phone calls that have been made to state and local-law enforcement officials as well as groups such as the American Red Cross.
Crews began search-and-rescue missions Wednesday night in hard-hit areas.
Alan Harris, Seminole County director of emergency management, it’s unlikely the state will have to open a temporary morgue to handle mass casualties.
“We are ready to open up a temporary morgue if necessary, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be needed so that’s an amazing thing,” said Harris, who was working at the State Emergency Operations Center. “We are very, very happy about that.”