Hospitals plan for patient evacuations in major storms

CHARLESTON, S.C.(WCIV) - As a storm nears, many people are ordered to evacuate, many of whomare fully capable of doing so. But what about people who can't? How dohospitals evacuate their patients?

It's a topic Jerry Flury withRoper St. Francis takes seriously.

"We have a very robustevacuation plan that we practice annually, and we have contracts with fixedwing carriers, helicopters, ambulances, and buses over the state of South Carolina, Charlotteand in Georgia,"he said.

And with an evacuation beingpracticed or in full swing, they have to have a central area for meeting andplanning. That's why Roper St. Francis has a command center to coordinate withpeople across the state.

"We usually have one of ourchief nurse officers as our operating section and then of course there isfinance - you always have to have finance for everything," Flury said.

Brian Fletcher at Medical University Hospitalsays officials there start planning as soon as the first watch or warning isput in place by the National Weather Service.

"A small group of leadershipbegins looking at this. We're talking to local weather service; we're talkingto the media; we're trying to get a good handle as you know tropical storms andhurricanes are so unpredictable that it becomes very difficult to pin downwhere it's going and where it's going to hit," he said.

At MUSC, they're also takingpreparations to a new level.

"We are taking it one stepfurther. We have a critical infrastructure mitigation program that is underwaythat's been funded in part by FEMA dollars to actually move all of our criticalinfrastructure up out of the flood zone," Fletcher said. "In fact, on the fourthfloor so that it will make it less probable that we would have to evacuateshould a storm come."

At the Ralph H. Johnson Medical Center, ambulatory busesare provided around the clock for evacuation, if they are needed. There are twobuses in Charleston,one is 36 feet long and the other is 28 feet long, says Charlie Tupper.

Tupper adds that parts from aC-130 were installed in the bus to allow for stretchers and moving patientswith different needs.

But at what point do hospitalsget the word that it's time to evacuate?

"We have a plan at the VA. Westarted 96 hours out and we look at a storm," Tupper said, who says they takeone day at a time in their planning. "Our goal is to get the patients out ofthe building before the 24-hour point."

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