Area hospitals ready for patients displaced by hurricane

Becky Campbell • Sep 15, 2018 at 12:01 AM

While area residents and organizations have offered housing and other assistance to people fleeing the wrath and aftermath of Hurricane Florence, Ballad Health has committed to being a refuge for any patients in the storm’s path.

Ballad Health Executive Chairman, President and CEO Alan Levine — who has been through numerous hurricanes in his previous jobs — said medical facilities in Johnson City are ready to receive any hospital patients evacuated from the coast.

“First of all, our prayers and thoughts are with everybody that is being affected by the storm now,” Levine said on Friday. “It’s frightening to go through a hurricane. Fortunately this one weakened as it hit the coast, so they didn’t have to experience as much of the wind as if it had been a Cat 4 or Cat 5, but it’s a major flooding event.”

As of Friday, no hospital patients had been evacuated from the hurricane’s path to any Ballad hospital, but Levine said patients were transferred from hospitals in Asheville, North Carolina, after patients from hospitals in the hurricane’s path were sent to Asheville. Levine said major hospital systems participate in interstate compact agreements, giving facilities in the danger zone the ability to evacuate patients to other hospitals for safety.

“If hospitals need to evacuate from areas affected by the hurricane, we’re certainly prepared to take transfers from those hospitals. What I did notice was many of those hospitals were evacuating before the storm. Hospitals have disaster plans that call for evacuations if a certain level hurricane is approaching the coast. In the event there’s major catastrophic damage to a hospital and they need to evacuate, we’re certainly prepared to accept those patients,” he said.

Levine is the former secretary of health for both Florida and Louisiana and experienced a dozen hurricanes while living in those states. He urged anyone who has taken refuge in the Tri-Cities to stay here until authorities in their home towns say it’s safe to return.

“We’re so glad they’re here, and I’m so grateful to everybody from Bristol Motor Speedway to ETSU to individual families that opened their homes. The thing I would advise people to do is don’t rush back. Wait until you’re told by local authorities it’s safe to return,” he said. “If you’re somewhere you’re comfortable and safe, stay there until it’s safe to return home.”

As Florida’s secretary of health care administration during the tenure of Gov. Jeb Bush, Levine served alongside former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in the preparation for, and response to, 10 major hurricanes and tropical storms that made landfall in Florida in 2004 and 2005. During that time, Levine’s team pioneered real-time health care reporting, evacuation and assistance for the variety of health care organizations throughout the state.

As Louisiana’s secretary of health and hospitals during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal, Levine oversaw the largest medical evacuation in America’s history as nearly 2 million people were evacuated from the coast of Louisiana, including the City of New Orleans, in preparation for Hurricanes Gustav and Ike to make landfall in 2008. While a member of Jindal’s senior response team, Levine also participated in the oversight of the state’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, including directing the state’s health and human services response.

“Most of the deaths in a hurricane actually occur afterwards,” Levine said. “Sometimes the deaths are people attempting to deal with things they don’t know how to deal with. For instance, using a generator indoors or in your garage ... you ended up with people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning, or letting children play or going out and walking in water, or going into standing water where you don’t know how deep it is where you have potentially downed power lines, where you have currents that can take you under.

“What I try to tell people is make sure to wait until you have direction from local authorities to say it’s safe to go outside. Obviously people are going to lose power. It remains to be seen how long power lines will be down and how long power will be out. That obviously leads to issues, particularly if you have someone who had technology dependency such as a ventilator or other types of technology.”

Levine isn’t the only agency or institution leader who has extended advice.

ETSU activated its ETSU Response website to provide information on how to support those affected by Hurricane Florence. The website, www.etsu.edu/response, gives the university and surrounding community ways to support those affected by Hurricane Florence.

It provides a link to Charity Navigator, a website listing highly rated organizations set to respond in the aftermath of Florence with general aid and relief, medical services and more. A link to the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information website allows prospective donors to review charity efforts to which they consider donating.

Additional links can assist evacuees in locating housing and other resources, as well as connect ETSU students and employees who may be affected by Florence to support services at the university.

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