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Florida hospitals are struggling to provide care to patients after Hurricane Ian

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Evacuations are underway at many hospitals struggling to provide care to patients in southwest Florida. After Hurricane Ian ripped through Fort Myers, Naples and other parts of the state, dozens of facilities reported flooding, power outages and loss of water. Mary Mayhew is the CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. She joins us now to talk about recovery efforts. Welcome.

MARY MAYHEW: Thank you. Good morning.

RASCOE: How are hospital evacuations going right now?

MAYHEW: Over the last several days, there has been a coordinated effort with the hospitals in southwest Florida to evacuate critical patients. That has been done through state resources, the deployment of ambulances, air transport and with all of the other hospitals around the state. Thousands of beds have been made available to accept evacuated patients. Air transport and ambulances have been deployed from hospitals around the state to support this effort.

RASCOE: Can you tell us about the extent of the damage the hurricane caused to medical facilities?

MAYHEW: Well, certainly, the destruction in southwest Florida and specifically in the Fort Myers area is unimaginable. Now, thankfully, hospitals have been hardening their facilities for years to withstand hurricanes. There is not considerable damage to our hospitals. The biggest challenge that our hospitals have faced is the interruption of key public services, the electrical grid, and most especially the disruption in the public water supply. That has been the biggest challenge to sustaining operations of our hospitals in that area.

RASCOE: So how many medical facilities are nonoperational?

MAYHEW: Right now there are five hospitals that over the last several days have been dealing with the loss of power and the loss of water. Now, thankfully, today, 4 of those 5 hospitals now have power and the water issues have been improved. There still is one hospital that is without water, and the remaining hospitals are still dealing with water pressure issues. But the situation is improving dramatically.

RASCOE: About how many patients are affected?

MAYHEW: It's about 900 patients among those hospitals. And again, some of the individuals over the last several days, some of the patients have been transferred to other hospitals around the state.

RASCOE: So these hospitals are dealing with issues. They're dealing with some challenges. How are they getting through, you know, not having water pressure, at least one that still doesn't have, you know, water at all? How are they dealing with these challenges?

MAYHEW: Gratefully, there have been so many resources deployed to this area. Governor DeSantis made sure that there were very large tankers with water deployed to the area. The hospitals have been able to pump water from other nearby sources. There have been fire trucks deployed to the hospitals with water. So there have been a lot of resources that have been brought to these hospitals to support over the last several days their need for water.

RASCOE: And we know that seniors are among the most vulnerable in these situations. And nursing homes were hit hard, as well. What are the conditions like for them right now?

MAYHEW: Well, there have been thousands of individuals in our nursing homes, in assisted living facilities that were evacuated from areas in southwest Florida. There are many nursing homes and assisted living facilities that either were in flood areas, or the buildings were not able to withstand the hurricane-force winds. So significant disruption, obviously, for the individuals residing in those facilities. And, of course, it'll be some time before they may be able to return to those nursing homes and assisted living facilities. And that, of course, also means that any of the hospital patients who needed to be discharged back to a nursing home - there will be significant delays.

RASCOE: What does the path to recovery look like for hospitals and nursing homes damaged by the hurricane? What resources are needed right now?

MAYHEW: We absolutely depend on 24/7 access to hospital services. Hospitals are urgently repairing damage. Those hospitals that closed in neighboring Charlotte - they are urgently working to reopen their facility. These hospitals are incredibly resilient. Their teams are focused on prioritization of sustained operations because we've got so many individuals, as well, through the search-and-rescue operations that will need hospital level of care.

RASCOE: Mary Mayhew is the CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. Thank you so much for joining us.

MAYHEW: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.