At least 35 hospitals in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina have either closed entirely or ordered partial evacuations in advance of Hurricane Irma.
The decisions come as officials have ordered nearly 7 million people to leave their homes, causing a mass exodus north before the storm begins to lash the Florida coast.
Throughout this week, Irma’s projected course has changed multiple times. That uncertainty has forced hospitals from the Florida Keys all the way to the coastal barrier islands of South Carolina to move patients.
Despite Irma’s unprecedented strength – anticipated to be even stronger than Hurricane Andrew in 1992 – the Florida Hospital Association told STAT that the vast majority of its more than 200 member hospitals, including the state’s largest hospitals, remained open as of Saturday afternoon. In total, the association says health care facilities have evacuated nearly 1,900 patients.
“There’s a tremendous spirit of cooperation and collaboration among hospitals that extends to state and federal agencies,” said Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association. “The hospitals I’ve talked to are confident they’re doing everything they can. There’s plenty of anxiety. But the ones staying open feel they can do a great job through the storm.”
Here’s the latest on hospitals that have either closed or evacuated patients ahead of Irma’s landfall:
- Florida Keys: Four hospitals — Lower Keys Medical Center, Fishermen’s Community Hospital, Mariner Hospital, and Depoo Hospital – were among the first hospitals to shut down ahead of the storm. This past week the North Carolina National Guard flew about a dozen patients to a hospital in Alabama. Miami-based Baptist Health, which owns the latter two hospitals, discharged patients and transferred its remaining ones to its mainland facilities.
- Miami: Mercy Hospital closed it doors on Friday after evacuating 200 patients to nearby Hospital Corporation of America facilities. In a Facebook post, administrators at Sister Emmanuel Hospital in Miami said they “have suspended all services and are transferring patients.” The Florida Hospital Association says two other area hospitals – HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital and the Anne Bates Leach Eye Hospital – have also closed.
- Fort Lauderdale: Two addiction treatment hospitals, Atlantic Shores Hospital and Fort Lauderdale Hospital, have both closed, according to the FHA.
- Tampa area: At least five hospitals off Florida’s west coast — Tampa Community Hospital, Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, Medical Center of Trinity, Palms of Pasadena Hospital, and Manatee Memorial Hospital — have closed. “All patients have been safely transferred to other hospitals,” a post on Manatee Memorial’s Facebook page said. “Security and other essential personnel remain at the hospital to monitor the facility.”
- Central Florida: The staff at Health First’s Cape Canaveral Hospital has closed after moving patients to another inland hospital over several days this week. “You can have a baby here on the sixth floor and see a dolphin swim outside,” spokesperson Matthew Gerrell told WFTV-9. “If we have a storm, you’re in a direct path. That’s the issue we’re facing, which is why we must train and prepare, and transfer out.” Florida Hospital has also evacuated patients from medical facilities in Ormond Beach, New Smyrna Beach, and Apopka.
- Jacksonville: The administrators at Baptist Health, a six-hospital system in northeast Florida, have transferred patients from its Jacksonville Beach and Fernandina Beach facilities to its other hospitals in the Jacksonville area. In a statement, Baptist Health said the decision was made so patients’ “medical conditions and safety would not be compromised.” In addition, the River Point Behavioral Health in Jacksonville has also closed, according to the FHA.
- Georgia: Before the storm shifted west, Memorial Health Hospital in Savannah transferred babies admitted to its neonatal unit to hospitals in Atlanta and Augusta. And the St. Joseph’s-Candler Health System decided to transfer patients from its Candler Hospital in Savannah to St. Joseph’s Hospital. “With the recent upgrades to that facility, it is better equipped to handle the long term needs of our caregivers, medical staff and any patients who are too sick to be discharged or evacuated,” said a statement from the health system.
- South Carolina: Even though South Carolina appears to no longer be in Irma’s path, some coastal hospitals have chosen to shut down out of a sense of precaution. Hilton Head Hospital is suspending services until the storm ends, and intends to close its emergency department late Saturday afternoon. “We are currently continuing to safely evacuate our inpatients,” said a statement from the hospital. Coastal Carolina Hospital had also announced a partial evacuation.
In addition to hospitals, some nursing homes and health facilities closed throughout the region. Check back for updates.