Ruminations from Tampa Bay After Hurricane Irma


In Florida, many health care professionals learned how to prepare to serve in the face of calamity.

Some say that in Florida, we do not experience the 4 seasons of summer, fall, winter, and spring.

But we do experience hurricane season, which many other places do not. In 2017, hurricane season falls between June 1 and November 30. And with both Harvey and Irma, this season has proven to be incredibly active so far.

For the past few weeks, meteorologists and citizens of Florida alike were carefully monitoring the movements of what developed into an unprecedented, potentially catastrophic storm. We all learned a little more about storm tracking this past week. We also learned about the importance of preparation, especially when supplies of water and fuel began to go dry almost 5 days before the storm was predicted to hit our area.

For those of us who work in the health care system and were called to action, we learned how to prepare to serve in the face of potential calamity. In the areas where a disaster plan was initiated, we packed our belongings for an extended stay at our workplaces. As much as we wanted to be with family, we understood that we needed to be there for our patients when they might need us the most. Like the many who evacuated their homes, we left not knowing what we might come back to. We went in to our sites not knowing if our city or state would ever look the same again. Then we got to work.

I am a pharmacy intern at a hospital in the Tampa Bay area, where I help to complete the best possible medication histories for patients coming in through our emergency department. I love the setting, I love the work, and I love the people. The emergency department can seem overwhelming to those who have never worked there before, and at times it can become overwhelming even for those of us who have. But working through a potentially devastating hurricane presents its own challenges.

Some facilities are forced to close, which can lead to a rapid influx of transferred patients. Outpatient pharmacies also close, making it impossible for patients to fill prescriptions outside the hospital. Medication orders can be delayed from the storm. These unique challenges can all affect workflow. Whichever situation a hospital encounters during a disaster scenario, it is crucial to have an adaptable team. I am thankful to be a part of a great team, and I am proud of my co-workers for their resilience.

I want to note that aside from minor damages and widespread power outages, our immediate area lucked out overall. It was only less than 12 hours before we were bracing for direct impact with major damage when the storm slowly began to weaken. Our team had been in the hospital since the day before the predicted impact, and emotions were high everywhere. Still, I was amazed at how well everyone held it together. Team members continued to look out for the well-being of others even in the face of potential destruction. Management worked to ensure our team was well rested and that operations ran as smoothly as possible. Our company provided team members with meals from the café. We had a plan for rescue and response and remained prepared to serve no matter what we encountered. When we received the “all clear," everyone was definitely ready to go home. I remember the first breath of fresh air. We should consider that this is a feeling our patients experience as well. Most of all, we should continue to stick together. I hope that all who work in hospital systems can learn to appreciate their teams even in trying times. There may be some instances where your team is all you have, and I am proud to be an intern team member at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

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