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Local hospitals fly patients away from devastation

Mark Parker



A Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital air care team transports a pediatric patient from Golisano Children's Hospital in Ft. Myers to St. Petersburg. Video screengrab.

Local hospitals are airlifting patients impacted by Hurricane Ian’s devastation in South Florida to St. Petersburg.

Through the storm – which did bring wind gusts of nearly 80 mph and widespread power outages to St. Petersburg – around 800 staff members and 170 pediatric patients stayed at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. In an effort to assist colleagues about 120 miles to the south, the hospital is adding to those numbers by transporting patients from Golisano Children’s Hospital in Ft. Myers.

According to a Friday evening press release, All Children’s has already admitted 18 pediatric patients to its neonatal intensive care, hematology, oncology and other units as needed. In an accompanying video interview conducted by staff onsite, Dr. Tony Napolitano, chair of pediatric medicine and director of the neonatal and pediatric critical care transport team, said hospitals that bore the brunt of Ian’s wrath have reached out for help. “To make sure they can move their patients to a safer area of care,” said Napolitano.

“Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital participates with the State of Florida in allowing that movement to occur. We have both a ground transport system as well as a helicopter, and we’re able to move patients by both means to a safer environment.”

The first to make the trek north up the Gulf Coast, explained Napolitano, are “very, very sick babies” from Golisano’s neonatal intensive care unit and their pediatric counterparts.

As of Friday evening, All Children’s had already transferred 18 pediatric patients, many requiring intensive care. Screengrab.

Napolitano relayed a “great sympathy” among All Children’s staff for health care providers that were not as lucky as those based in St. Petersburg. He and his colleagues, said Napolitano, are energized to take care of patients while hospital staff members in southwest Florida address their personal needs in the wake of the strong Category 4 storm.

Parents of pediatric patients not only endured a horrific disaster but must immediately divert their attention back to their sick children – and Napolitano said All Children’s is happy to offer some comfort. To ease anxiety and provide a sense of calm during the storm, “ride-out teams” in St. Petersburg put on a talent show for the kids as Ian barreled through the state.

“When they (parents) walk through the door, there is a sigh of relief,” he said. “They know their patient – their child – is in a safe environment. I think they’re very, very relieved.”

Napolitano said that in his 35 years as a physician, he has never witnessed the need for such a response as he has in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

He called the storm’s impacts among the worst in memory and the destruction and aftermath “very significant.” He also credited the “heroic effort” by leaders throughout the state to provide safe care for patients trapped in Ft. Myers.

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg is also airlifting patients from Lee Memorial Hospital in Ft. Myers. Photo provided.

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg is also part of that heroic effort.

The Orlando Health healthcare system oversees Bayfront St. Petersburg and has already admitted nearly 30 patients from Lee Health in Lee County, which includes Ft. Myers. According to a late Friday night release, that hospital system was one of the most impacted by Hurricane Ian.

About half of those transferred to the local hospital require intensive care, and Bayfront Health has also deployed its air care team to transport patients to safety.

“Devastating events like this require a collective approach to provide help where it’s needed most,” said John Moore, president of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, in a statement.

“Our team is ready to provide that excellent care that Bay area and Central Florida residents have come to expect from our healthcare system.”

While the hospital has already admitted dozens of transferred patients, the release states that health system officials are initiating hundreds more. In addition to some structural damage, many southwest Florida hospitals are without the power and water pressure critically needed to provide adequate care.

Transferring patients to hospital systems less impacted by the storm could mean the difference between life and death for many, according to the release. Founded in 1910, the 480-bed Bayfront Health facility is home to the only state-accredited Level Two Adult Trauma Center in the St. Petersburg region.

According to a state release Friday, the Florida Department of Health and Agency for Health Care Administration has evacuated nearly 9,000 patients from over 200 health care facilities. Around 400 ambulances, paratransit busses and support vehicles have responded to the area. Leadership is also shuttling 1.2 million gallons of water from Lakeland to Ft. Myers to support Lee County hospitals without potable water.

As of Friday, 400 additional nurses were moving into the area and 282 healthcare facilities remained without power.

“Our primary goal is to ensure that these patients receive the best care possible,” said Moore.




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