The Augusta area and the state of Georgia are once again providing a haven for patients affected by a hurricane, this time Hurricane Maria.
AU Medical Center got two patients from a hospital in St. Croix damaged by the massive storm and others in Georgia got 20 patients from other facilities ravaged by Maria, said AUMC Chief Operating Officer Shawn Vincent
The patients came in early Sunday morning from a facility in St. Croix where the first floor was flooding and the patients were first moved to a higher floor, said Associate Chief Medical Officer Phillip Coule.
“But then the roof of the building blew off and started falling in on them,” he said.
The patients were first moved to Puerto Rico and then flown into Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta and brought to AUMC, Coule said. The National Disaster Medical System has been activated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Coule said. That will not only mobilize Disaster Medical Assistance Teams to respond to the devastated areas but also facilitate the transfer of patients from those areas, he said.
In addition to the damage on St. Croix and St. Thomas islands, Vincent said it is his understanding that Puerto Rico, which also took a direct hit from Maria, is down to one functioning hospital.
“Right now, we have not been told there are any more coming but we are on the ready, expecting more will come,” Coule said. The transfers are being made even more difficult by phone lines being down and cell towers knocked out in many of the areas where patients might be transferred from, Coule said. Worsening conditions in those heavily damaged areas will also mean more people will be seeking medical services soon, he said.
“The local infrastructure may not be able to handle it,” Coule said.
The AU Health System is “committed to assisting the state of Georgia and federal agencies who are coordinating the medical relief efforts for these devastated communities,” Vincent said. “While the natural disasters have had such a broad impact on some of the most vulnerable people, those with medical needs, we are fortunate we can provide assistance with such a highly qualified staff of physicians and other care providers to meet the needs of those individuals.”
After providing for patients fleeing Hurricane Matthew last year and Hurricane Irma this year, the health system is getting good at handling these transfers, Coule said.
“Unfortunately, we’re getting better at it because we’ve been forced to” because of those storms, he said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213