How hospitals, health organizations are preparing for Hurricane Florence

Alia Paavola and Alyssa Rege - Print  | 

As Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm, pushes toward the East Coast, hospitals and pharmacies across the Carolinas are prepping for what could be catastrophic damage.

"This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd and Matthew," said the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

Here are six ways healthcare organizations are preparing for the storm:

1. HHS declares public health emergency. On Sept. 11, HHS Secretary Alex Azar declared public health emergencies in North and South Carolina, which makes it easier to ensure Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries have access to medical care despite the storm. HHS also positioned about 230 medical personnel in North Carolina and Maryland to help communities that may need extra medical support. In addition, HHS is working to make more ambulances available to help evacuate hospitals and nursing homes.

2. Evacuations. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued a medical evacuation order for all healthcare providers in several coastal counties Sept. 10. Hospitals in those mandatory evacuation zone have 72 hours to complete the evacuation. Georgetown, S.C.-based Tidelands Health said it applied for an evacuation waiver but was denied and began evacuating patients Sept. 10. Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based Grand Strand Health discontinued elective surgeries and closed outpatient facilities, effective Sept. 11. Patients evacuated from Myrtle Beach area hospitals have been relocated to sister facilities, including to Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga., according to News Channel 6.

3. Disaster plans. Several hospitals outside the mandatory evacuation zones are preparing for the worst. Conway (S.C.) Medical Center has several backup generators, which will allow the hospital to keep power running for at least 93 hours should Hurricane Florence knock out power, according to a WMBF news report.

4. Stocking supplies. The director of emergency management at Conway Medical Center, Daniel Adamczyk, said the hospital is working to stock the hospital with extra supplies in order to prepare for the surge in patients and any delays in shipment that may occur because of the storm, according to

"We’re ready for anything. If this storm were to hit anywhere along the Carolinas, we would anticipate a surge on supplies from our vendors, so we have to be ready to stock those supplies," Mr. Adamczyk told WMBF.

Charleston-based Medical University of South Carolina is insuring it keeps enough food, water, vital medications and other supplies to last at least seven days, according to a WCSC news report.

5. Deploying a former military vehicle. The Medical University of South Carolina is using a retired military vehicle, a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle, to ensure the safe transfer of physicians and patients. The vehicle can drive through water as deep as 6 feet.

"One of the things we're really excited about is we have a high-water vehicle that we have been able to acquire in the last year," Matt Wain, COO of the medical university, told WCSC. "It enables us to drive through water as deep as 6 feet, and so we can provide urgent and emergent transportation for patients and physicians and staff between buildings if that need might arise."

6. Pfizer suspends operations. Pfizer, which already is facing pressure for manufacturing delays that led to saline and EpiPen shortages, will suspend operations at its two North Carolina plants Sept. 13, according to Bloomberg. The drugmaker's sterile injectables division, Hospira, is located at one of the facilities in North Carolina. That business supplies drugs to hospitals. Pfizer is working to ensure that pharmaceutical supply won't be affected by the storm.

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