Hospitals prepare for hurricane season during COVID-19 pandemic


MYRTLE. BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — South Carolina hospitals are establishing new evacuation plans to prepare for the 2020 hurricane season. Hurricane Isaias’ path could lead it up the east coast towards hospitals already overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals are preparing for two disasters at once. Typically hospitals would evacuate inland during a hurricane, but limited space and COVID-19 challenges have many hospitals planning to shelter in place.

“Regardless of being in a pandemic or not, we have to have an evacuation plan in the event a storm is far greater than any hospital could withstand,” John Williams, South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) Emergency Preparedness Director said.

Any other year, hospitals along the east coast are directed to evacuate inland and move patients to another hospital. That was before testing requirements, mask-wearing, and social distancing all became a factor.

“We have started emergency management planning just like everyone along the coast knowing that an evacuation is not going to be an option,” Monica Vehige, the administrator of McLeod Loris Seacoast Hospital said.

Hospital leaders say sheltering in place may be the safest decision this year. A SCHA leader says the CEO’s of coastal hospitals will likely have a say on whether to evacuate or shelter in place in the middle of a hurricane.

“You have to think about what transportation assets are going to look like. Again, what are the requirements of the receiving hospital? Do they have enough beds or staff to absorb the coast when they are experiencing a surge already,” Williams said.

Grand Strand Medical Center Director is also expecting decision making to fall back on the individual facility, who ultimately knows their local community best.

“Right now based on what the storm looks like it doesn’t appear that we are going to need to do that, so we are going to shelter in place and do what we need to do to take care of the patients in the house and still be open to help protect the public,” Matt Tumbleson, the Director of Emergency Preparedness and Security Grand Strand Medical Center said.

State leaders say all hospitals are required to follow any mandates from Governor McMaster. Hospitals can request exemptions when there is a mandatory medical evacuation.

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