Augusta facilities take in patients in path of Hurricane Irma

Peter Marshall walked through the door of University Extended Care Amara nursing home on Friday and got a hug from administrator Camille Bruce.

 

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Bruce said. For Marshall, it should feel familiar.

A year ago, Marshall and patients from Fraser Health Care nursing home in Hilton Head Island, S.C., evacuated to Augusta ahead of Hurricane Matthew and they returned hoping to avoid the wrath of Hurricane Irma. They were among dozens of patients from coastal areas who are in Augusta facilities now ahead of the powerful storm and ahead of mandatory evacuations from those areas.

AU Medical Center had received 56 patients from those areas by Friday afternoon and “that continues to climb and we’re continuing to accept patients,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, associate chief medical officer at AUMC. The hospital is discharging those patients who can go home this weekend “to create capacity here, not knowing what is going to happen,” said AUMC CEO Lee Ann Liska.

The facility is also putting together a volunteer list of providers to go to shelters around Augusta to provide care as they did when Hurricane Matthew blew through, Coule said. They are coordinating those efforts with the Georgia Department of Public Health, he said. The department is trying to place a public health nurse in every one of the state’s shelters and is working to get physician volunteers in there as well, said Commissioner Patrick O’Neal.

While Augusta University cancelled all classes and activities Monday and will close its campus, the health system will stay open and is going ahead with scheduled clinics and surgeries, Liska said.

“The storm track keeps changing, so that’s why we need to keep it business as normal, at least for Monday and maybe it won’t even impact Tuesday’s schedules,” she said.

The discussion about leaving Hilton Head and returning to Augusta began earlier this week and Amara administrator Camille Bruce said they have been busy stocking up on all available supplies, from water to food to medication and linen, that the 25 patients and 22 staff might need when they arrived.

“We made sure it was here, from the very basics to medication, generators, the big things,” she said.

As much as they plan to bring their supplies with them “there will always be that one thing you tend to forget or overlook,” said Audrey Snell, assistant director of nursing for Fraser. Having now done this two years in a row – last year they were at University’s Kentwood facility – actually made it easier, Marshall said.

“We had an idea of what the drill was,” he said. “We’d also had such a good experience with Kentwood last year that we knew we were going to have welcome arms here. They provide a good safety net because we don’t know how long we’ll be here, depending on what the damage is.”

Last year, it was seven days and Bruce said the facility is prepared to host them longer if need be.

There was some talk in Hilton Head that because the hurricane track is shifting farther west that maybe it would be premature to evacuate now, Marshall said.

“But what we’re concerned about is storm surge,” he said. “Our job was to make sure our residents got out of harm’s way.”

They saw the pictures of nursing home patients in Houston sitting in flood water up to their waists and that was motivation enough to act, Marshall said.

“The last thing we would ever want is to see our residents in that circumstance,” he said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

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