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Fla. hospitals evacuate patients ahead of Hurricane Idalia

Tampa General Hospital, region’s only Level 1 trauma center, will receive patients as the storm passes through


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Christopher O’Donnell
Tampa Bay Times

Three Tampa Bay hospitals were evacuated and closed Monday to protect patients from possible flooding and storm surge from Idalia.

Patients at HCA Florida Trinity West Hospital in New Port Richey and HCA Florida West Tampa Hospital were transferred by ambulances to other HCA facilities.

Patients were also ferried from HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital, the second straight year that the threat of a major storm has forced the hospital to close.

The facility is not on a barrier island but is close to intracoastal waters near St. Pete Beach. A fleet of five helicopters flew multiple trips with about 40 patients from the hospital during Hurricane Ian last year.

HCA officials did not provide details on how many patients were relocated. A patient reunification number has been set up at (844) 482-4821.

“This precaution is now underway/complete, ahead of the storm’s impact to ensure the safe and careful transfer of each patient,” the hospital said in a statement.

Across Tampa Bay, other hospital chains were also making final preparations for the storm that is forecast to make landfall as a major hurricane.

As the region’s only Level 1 trauma center, Tampa General Hospital will be the main destination for Hillsborough County first responders transporting patients who may be injured as Idalia passes.

But the hospital, located on Davis Islands, is in evacuation zone A, an area at high risk from flooding and storm surge damage. So for the second straight year, the hospital is deploying flood defenses designed to keep the hospital operational.

On Monday, maintenance crews began assembling an “aqua fence,” a water-impermeable barrier that stretches around the hospital campus. It is designed to withstand a storm surge of up to 15 feet above sea level.

“The health and safety of our patients, team members and our community is our highest priority,” said spokesperson Beth Hardy in an email. “Our team is actively monitoring and preparing for the impact of Idalia on the Tampa Bay area.”

In the past 15 years, Tampa General has made other major investments to remain operational during storms.

Lower floors are equipped with submarine doors, 6-inch-thick metal barrier doors with inflatable bladders that create watertight seals below. The hospital’s electrical, air conditioning and other critical systems were relocated to floors 25 feet above ground.

Access to Davis Islands remains a concern if Tampa Bay is hit by major storm surge. By road, the area is only accessible by two bridges.

Several Florida hospitals had to deal with water inundation or had to be evacuated for Hurricane Ian last year. The lower floor of the emergency room at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte suffered flooding during the storm and winds ripped part of the roof of its intensive care unit.

BayCare, which runs 16 local hospitals, said its emergency management team has been tracking the storm since the weekend and working to ensure each hospital is storm ready. The nonprofit routinely maintains surplus inventory during hurricane season to ensure it can continue to serve patients if supplies are disrupted, said spokesperson Mary Marandi.

AdventHealth, which owns 13 hospitals in its West Florida division, said it is now operating under emergency management procedures, which include ensuring there are adequate quantities of food, water, medication, supplies, and that there are alternate power sources at each hospital. Trees and debris are being removed from hospital campuses as needed, said spokesperson Lauren Rozyla.

The health firm is asking the public to remember that hospitals are not equipped or designed to serve as a public shelter during a storm.

©2023 Tampa Bay Times. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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