Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa General Hospital leaders "confident" TGH can operate through hurricane

TAMPA — At Tampa General Hospital, Hurricane Irma is requiring preparations that haven't been needed since Hurricane Charley threatened the area 13 years ago.

In a windowless, third-floor conference room Wednesday, high-level administrators set up an Incident Command Center where they will monitor the storm and make critical decisions about patients. It's the first time the center has been used since 2004.

Inside, seven television screens show camera feeds from around the hospital and Davis Islands, on which the hospital sits. Employees will be able to check on any flooding from there, said Tony Venezia, TGH's director of security and emergency management.

Davis Islands are entirely in Evacuation Zone A, where residents are told to leave first. But THG's plan is to keep its patients there.

"It's very hard for us to be able to move the patients," Venezia said. "They're just very sick." Keeping them there is the best way to care for them, he said.

"Not only that, but the regional, state assets just aren't there to be able to move our patients to somewhere else safely."

On Wednesday, the 1,011-bed facility held about 800 patients, he said. TGH is the Tampa Bay area's only Level I trauma center, a facility capable of providing every aspect of care for traumatic injuries.

It's also surrounded by water. The location means that storm surge is a distinct vulnerability, Venezia said. For that reason, its backup generators are about three stories off the ground.

There's enough fuel to power those generators for four days, said Erinn Skiba, the hospital's emergency preparedness manager. That's how much they keep on site every day of the year, storm or no storm. And they have contracts in place to get more if they need it, she said.

"Obviously, we don't want these shutting down," Skiba said.

The plan to elevate the generators came after Hurricane Elena, a 1985 storm that forced evacuations of TGH and several other hospitals and nursing homes.

In 2005, flooding from Hurricane Katrina also affected hospitals. After that storm, Venezia said, TGH administrators visited New Orleans and took notes.

Bad flooding could force patients on the lowest floors to move upstairs, he said, a situation he has prepared for.

"We know that if we get anywhere from about a 10 to 20-foot storm surge come through that we're going to surrender the first and second floors," Venezia said.

Then there's the wind. All the windows have hurricane shutters except for some very new ones that were installed to be hurricane-safe. Still, a major hurricane could pose problems.

"We're pretty comfortable at a Category 3," Skiba said. Winds above that wouldn't likely cause structural damage but could force staff to move patients away from windows. The shutters should withstand a Category 4 storm, Venezia said.

In the worst-case scenario, he knows they won't be able to fly anyone off the island during a hurricane. The plan would be to keep everyone inside and keep working.

"We're very confident that in the event — even if we have to move patients into hallways, and get them away from exterior walls and those type of things — we could still operate as a hospital," Venezia said.

That operation includes feeding patients, doctors and staff. There are five days worth of food available, enough for 11,000 meals per day.

Families and visitors of patients should keep in mind that if an evacuation is ordered, they may not be able to visit the hospital. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, Venezia said.

No patients are being turned away in advance of the storm and there's not yet a push to discharge anyone early, Venezia said. So far, the only difference is in the prep work.

Only a half-dozen administrators worked out of the Incident Command Center on Wednesday but when the storm hits, a couple of dozen hospital leaders will fill the room, Skiba said.

VA hospitals prepared for week without food, water

The Tampa Bay area's two U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers will have enough food, water and fuel to run for seven days, according to Mary Kay Rutan, spokeswoman for the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network, which oversees facilities in Florida.

The James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa holds more than 530 beds. The C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Pinellas County has 397 beds.

At both, doctors are limiting inpatient admissions and expediting discharges, Rutan said. The hospitals are "discussing" scenarios involving evacuating patients if need be, she said, although they haven't made decisions yet.

"It is too early to activate these contingencies," Rutan said.

She said the hospitals are reaching out to "vulnerable" local veterans, such as those who are homeless or have home-based primary care, but said VA facilities don't typically serve as general population shelters.

Howard Altman contributed to this report. Contact Langston Taylor at ltaylor@tampabay.com. Follow @langstonitaylor.

Tampa General Hospital leaders "confident" TGH can operate through hurricane 09/06/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 6, 2017 6:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Mueller casts broad net in requesting extensive records from Trump White House

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian election meddling has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the White House, covering the president's private discussions about firing his FBI director and his response to news that the then-national security adviser was under …

    In a photograph provided by the Russian foreign ministry, President Donald Trump meets with Sergei Lavrov, left, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 10, 2017. Special counsel Robert Mueller is interested in this meeting, where Trump said dismissing FBI Director James Comey had relieved "great pressure" on him, the New York Times reported on Sept. 20. [Russian Foreign Ministry via  New York Times]
  2. All of Puerto Rico without power in Maria's brutal wake

    News

    SAN JUAN — Hurricane Maria's ferocious winds continued strafing Puerto Rico late Wednesday morning, shearing off roofs, cutting power to nearly the entire island and pushing rivers over their banks.

    Rescue vehicles from the Emergency Management Agency stand trapped under an awning during the impact of Hurricane Maria, after the storm  hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has lost its major hurricane status, after raking Puerto Rico. But forecasters say some strengthening is in the forecast and Maria could again become a major hurricane by Thursday. [Carlos Giusti | Associated Press]
  3. Obamacare repeal bill offers flexibility and uncertainty

    Politics

    The latest Republican proposal to undo the Affordable Care Act would grant states much greater flexibility and all but guarantee much greater uncertainty for tens of millions of people.

  4. Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire 'private briefings' on 2016 campaign, report says

    Nation

    Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, the Washington Post reports.

    Paul Manafort, then Donald Trump's campaign chairman, talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. [Associated Press]
  5. Tampa girl, 4, dies of gunshot reaching for candy

    News

    TAMPA — One day last week, 4-year-old Yanelly Zoller reached into her grandmother's purse looking for candy, her father says.

    Nelly Zoller snuggles with her grandfather's dog, Venus. Her father says she went looking for candy in her grandmother's purse and found a gun instead. [Facebook]