What a difference 24 hours makes. Florida’s west coast had been projected to receive the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s fury, with Tampa General Hospital directly in the path of the storm.
However the hospital—one of the largest in the Sunshine State—survived Irma without major damage, flooding, losing power, or having its electronic health records system going down.
Located on Davis Islands south of downtown, TGH is in a Level A evacuation zone that, on paper, should have been among the most vulnerable to a storm surge. While other Tampa area hospitals closed their doors, including Manatee Memorial Hospital, Morton Plant North Bay Hospital and Palms of Pasadena Hospital, TGH rode out the storm, incurring only some leaks caused by heavy rain.
“We did not lose power, nor were we flooded,” says John Dunn, TGH’s director of public relations. “Our concern was that if flooding were to occur, it would have happened at high tide at 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning. Our major issues right now are fixing and repairing leaks.”
Nonetheless, the 1,011-bed teaching hospital and Tampa’s only Level 1 trauma center cancelled all elective surgeries on Monday, and it clinics were closed. TGH primary care offices and pediatrics will stay closed on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as some specialty clinics.
Dunn credits the facility’s ability to stay open to the fact that Irma was downgraded from a category 3 Hurricane to category 1, with the trajectory shifting from west to east and significantly diminishing the potential storm surge. He also believes TGH’s contingency planning served the hospital well in maintaining operations.
“We have a plan that we work on year round, because when you’re on the tip of an island 12 feet above sea level, you are acutely aware of hurricanes,” adds Dunn, who notes that TBH employees are divided into two teams. “We activated our hurricane plan and command center on Friday and brought in our first team. They came in on Friday and rode out the storm, and the second team will come in to relieve them on Monday night in certain areas, with the full team deployed on Tuesday.”
As part of its contingency planning, the hospital was stocked with emergency food, water and medical supplies. In addition, the facility has submarine doors, hurricane shutters and emergency generators that are elevated 38.5 feet above sea level.
Dunn says TGH took the precautionary step of shutting down its boilers early Monday morning to prevent possible saltwater damage to them, which are located in the basement. “We lost hot water and some sterilization, so we had disposable instruments on hand, which mitigated the loss,” he observes. “The boilers were restarted at 5:30 a.m. on Monday and it took about six hours before we had hot water again.”
During the storm, the hospital provided child care onsite for staff that included 55 children. Dunn says TGH will extend that service an extra day given that many schools in Tampa will be closed on Tuesday. The hospital officially shut down its command center on Monday afternoon.
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