NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In Nashville, one of the country’s largest healthcare providers, HCA, has a team working to make sure major hospitals in the path of Hurricane Laura are cared for.
The HCA Healthcare Emergency Operations team is lead by Zach Oatis and a team of four others from TriStar Skyline, Centennial, Hendersonville, Horizon, and Redmond Regional out of Georgia.
“Currently the team is preparing. We’re studying the facilities, the region, always watching the weather, minute by minute at some points. Currently, we’re waiting for the storm to pass through,” Oatis explained to News 2 Thursday morning, “Once the storm passes, we’ll conduct what’s called a damage assessment, figure out where our issues are, who’s having what problems, and if the damage is severe enough, we can go down and support.”
With dozens of HCA hospitals in the path of Laura, several critical patients have already been evacuated to hospitals in Austin, Dallas, and north Florida.
“COVID has been a real challenge for us because normally, we would have de-risked a lot more patients or had the ability to move a lot more patients, but based on the ability of everyone’s census capacity and the lack of bed with the COVID crisis, we’ve been, it’s been a little bit more tricky to work with the patient logistics,” said Oatis.
More than 1200 people died in Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago, an event that changed everything for hurricane response.
“That event truly was a cornerstone in this company’s preparedness,” said Oatis, “We spent countless dollars using rotor wing, helicopters, different resources, boats to get our patients out, and ended up evacuating a few other hospitals as well.”
The Gulf Coast has been hit by storm after storm in the last two decades, most recently Hurricanes Harvey, Michael, and now Laura.
“In the last three to four years, HCA has reinvented healthcare emergency management,” explained Oatis.
He went on to explain the orders of operation for the team, “First and foremost is life-saving, beyond anything else we worry most about human life, beyond that we move to infrastructure, do we have the places that we can provide care that are safe; our buildings, our power, our water supplies, things of that nature? Beyond that, we move to resources and people, places, and things.”
It was a plan put into action during Hurricane Michael when an HCA hospital in Panama City was hit.
“We always prepare with extra supplies, both clinical but also food, water, things of that nature. We bring in large generators or water trucks so that if we lose city power or city water, we can continue that hospital’s care,” said Oatis.
The team kept the hospital running for about two weeks with outside resources and partners.
“For this storm, we have all of the same resources lined up,” he said, “Hopefully we won’t need them but it’s always better to be forward prepared, forward leading.”