A week after Hurricane Ian, Florida hospitals work to restore services

Hospitals in Lee County are no longer transferring patients. Emergency rooms have been very busy, and health systems are reopening outpatient facilities and doctors offices.

One week after Hurricane Ian struck Florida, hospitals are working to recover.

Lee Health, which operates four hospitals in Lee County, said Tuesday afternoon all of its hospitals are again ready to serve the community.  Lee County sustained catastrophic damage from the hurricane. At least 109 people have died nationwide due to Hurricane Ian, and 55 of those deaths have taken place in Lee County, CNN reported Tuesday night.

Lee Health had to transfer hundreds of patients due to a lack of running water at some facilities, although its emergency departments have remained open.

All 149 children at Golisano Children’s Hospital were evacuated, The News-Press of Fort Myers reported. Two other hospitals, HealthPark Medical Center and Gulf Coast Medical Center, also evacuated patients. Lee Health said Tuesday the system has now stopped transferring patients.

Lee Health said outpatient facilities were slated to reopen Wednesday. Most of Lee Health’s physician offices have reopened or will be open again this week, the system said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said healthcare workers from out of state will be assisting hospitals and offering relief for some Florida clinicians who need a break.

NCH Healthcare System, which operates hospitals in Naples, is accepting only emergency patients at its hospitals. NCH Healthcare CEO Paul Hiltz said in a video Sunday that the emergency rooms have been very busy. NCH also accepted some patients from Lee Health.

In the video Sunday, Hiltz asked patients to use urgent care facilities or to go to their primary care doctors for issues that weren’t life threatening. But he said, “If you need healthcare, please don’t stay home. Come to the hospital. We’re ready to take care of people. We’re just trying to use these facilities in the best way possible.”

NCH is also working with Amwell to offer free telehealth services for two weeks.

HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte remains closed after the hurricane tore off part of the roof of the building. HCA Florida Englewood Hospital remains closed as well.

Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System’s freestanding North Port Emergency Room and Outpatient Services are temporarily unable to see patients due to damage from the hurricane. The system hopes to reopen the emergency room as soon as possible.

In addition to damaging and disrupting healthcare systems, hospital employees have suffered heavy losses, including the loss of vehicles and homes due to the storm.

As Brian Solomon, a cardiothoracic surgeon at NCH Heart Institute, wrote on Twitter, “So proud of my team at NCH for rallying together during #HurricaneIan to provide top quality cardiac care/heart surgery and accept patients from surrounding hospitals, even after many of the staff lost their homes and cars.”

The Florida Hospital Association said it is gathering input from hospital leaders and will share lessons learned in the response to Hurricane Ian.

The Florida Department of Health continues to seek healthcare workers, including doctors, to help assist with relief efforts. More than 200 shelters are operating around the state to aid displaced residents.

Florida officials are asking doctors not to deploy on their own but to reach out to the state to go where help is needed most.