Originally created 09/15/99

Hospitals prepare



McKenzie Hamm slept on her side, oblivious to the monitors beeping around her and unaware she is on the run from a storm.

She and 13 other babies were evacuated from Savannah and nearby neonatal units ahead of Hurricane Floyd, among the 26 who are being transferred to Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.

MCG and other Augusta hospitals took in the first wave of evacuees and prepared to become a haven for coastal facilities. Others, such as Sanford Hawkins, prepared to head out into the storm to provide aid.

MCG also got a dozen patients from Charleston, Brunswick and other areas in the storm's path who needed surgery or intensive care, officials said. The hospital activated its emergency operations center Tuesday and put some surgical staff on call, said Scott Echelberger, senior assistant hospital director.

MCG could take an additional 96 patients, including as many as 18 who need intensive care, Mr. Echelberger said. Plans are being studied now for dealing with the storm's impact and the possibility of mass casualties in its wake.

On the front lines will be three members of Augusta's Disaster Medical Assistance Team, who are joining a larger group from Atlanta. Late Tuesday afternoon the team was awaiting word of where it would be sent, said Dr. Hawkins, an emergency medicine resident at MCG. It will be the first action for the team.

"It's kind of like waiting to get into the football game," Dr. Hawkins said. The team could spend a week to 10 days treating the hurricane victims.

Shepeard Community Blood Center and Red Cross Blood Services made an urgent appeal for donations to restock supplies sent to coastal hospitals in anticipation of hurricane victims.

Columbia-Augusta Medical Center welcomed 44 nursing home patients evacuated late Monday from Hilton Head and was waiting to hear if it will receive patients from a sister institution outside Charleston, said Michael Kerner, chief executive officer of Columbia-Augusta. The hospital is taking in its normal flow of patients, and Mr. Kerner estimated there was room for an additional 20 evacuees.

The first of 73 patients from an assisted-living center in Hilton Head Island began arriving late Tuesday afternoon at University Hospital after spending hours trying to get out of the area.

"I'm concerned about the adjustment because you're taking them from an environment they know," said Assistant Nursing Director Linda Springer. As a native of Trinidad, she has witnessed firsthand the devastation hurricanes can wreak.

The Augusta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers was expecting 33 patients and 11 staff members from the Charleston VA to arrive early today. The Augusta VA has canceled all elective surgery, spokeswoman Rosalie Bell said.

St. Joseph Hospital had received no word on whether its sister institution in Savannah will evacuate but is making preparations anyway, stocking up on supplies, linen and gas, said spokeswoman Sherry Lorenz.

"We are monitoring the situation closely, and we are basically preparing for the worst," she said.

Gracewood State School and Hospital in Augusta received 132 patients and 44 staff members from Tidelands Community Program in Savannah, said Bruce Callander, the facility's coordinator. Gracewood staffers also are securing the campus against hurricane-force winds, he added.

"We're trying to do the worst-case scenario," he said.

Staff Writer Brandon Haddock contributed to this article.

REACH:Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or

tomc@augustachronicle.com.