Florida health facilities evacuate patients after Ian

Thousands of people were evacuated from nursing homes and hospitals across Florida on Thursday, even as the winds and water from Hurricane Ian began to recede. Hundreds of those evacuations took place across the hard-hit Fort Myers region, where damage cut off drinking water to at least nine hospitals.

Kristen Knapp of the Florida Health Care Association says 43 nursing homes evacuated about 3,400 residents as of Thursday morning, mostly in Southwest Florida.

As many as 20 facilities had reported power outages, but Knapp says generators are powering those buildings. Water was also shut off at some facilities. And an area hospital began assessing the full damage from violent winds that tore off parts of its roof and flooded the emergency room.

In Orlando, residents of the Avante nursing home were evacuated to ambulances and waiting buses through flooding in a neighborhood that does not typically flood. Paramedics rolled the residents out one by one on stretchers and wheelchairs. On nearby Palm Island at the Baldwin apartment complex, cars were submerged in the parking lot.

Although the problem was too much water in much of the state, at least nine hospitals in Southwest Florida had the opposite problem.

“We have a large health system in Southwest Florida that is without water in all of their facilities. So they’re rapidly approaching a point where they’re not going to be able to take care of their patients for sure. So it’s a urgent focus on getting these patients transferred,” said Mary Mayhew, the president of the Florida Hospital Association.

Mayhew said more than 1,200 patients were evacuated.

Meanwhile, other hospitals may find themselves further strained, she said.

“There is a significant effort underway to rescue people who will also need medical attention. And to identify hospital beds that are available either in the region or elsewhere,” she said.

Hurricane Ian inundated HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte — just north of Fort Myers — from both above and below, as storm surge flooded its lower-level emergency room while high winds tore part of its fourth-floor roof from the intensive care unit, according to a doctor , who work there.

Dr. Birgit Bodine spent the night at the hospital expecting the storm to make things busy, “but we didn’t expect the roof to blow off on the fourth floor,” she said.

Water gushed down Wednesday from above the intensive care unit, forcing staff to evacuate the hospital’s sickest patients – some of them on ventilators – to other floors. Staff resorted to towels and plastic buckets to try to mop up the soaked mess.

The medium-sized hospital spans four floors, but patients were forced into only two due to the injuries.

Bodine plans to spend another night in the hospital, where incoming storm damage could make matters worse.

“The ambulances might be coming soon and we don’t know where to put them in the hospital at this point,” she said. “Because we’re doubled and tripled.”

Despite the flooding, Bodine said patients have been mostly understanding and upbeat.

“For us, as much as everything is horrible and we’re exhausted … as long as our patients are OK and nobody ends up dying or having a bad outcome, that’s what matters,” Bodine said.

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Calvan reported from New York. Associated Press reporters Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida and Matt Sedensky in New York contributed to this story.

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