Florida Hospices Enact Storm Emergency Plans to Keep Patients Safe

In a span of a month, two hurricanes have battered Florida’s coast. Recently, Hurricane Matthew left the Northeast Coast with damaged homes, fallen trees, dangerous flooding, and power outages. Severe weather can come to our doorstep at anytime and that’s why Floridians must prepare –including hospice programs around the state.

Forty-five hospice programs currently serve the state of Florida and each program has had an Emergency Preparedness Plan in place since the 1990s. Hospice programs serve over 127,800 patients in Florida each year.

At Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, staff worked together to safely evacuate their patients, family members, and pets.

“We made sure that each of our approximately 1,200 patients had a plan for their care during and after the storm; enough medicine, medical equipment, and other needed supplies to get them through that period of time,” explained Susan Ponder-Stansel, President and CEO of Community Hospice.

She went on to say, “Our plan worked. The care to our patients and support for their needs did not falter during the storm. The reason we were able to do so well is because of the dedication, professionalism, and tireless work of our staff.”

Another program affected by Hurricane Matthew was Cornerstone Hospice. Leadership at Cornerstone operated from an abundance of caution, remembering that Polk County was hit by three hurricanes in 2004.

Rhonda White, Cornerstone Hospice Chief Operations Officer shared, “We activated our plan a little earlier than normal. We contacted all of our patients, educated them on what was going on in case they weren’t watching the news. We made sure that they had a certain amount of medication and supplies on hand so we didn’t have delivery issues.”

Due to the unpredictable nature of the storm and challenges of navigating curfews set by local officials, safety was a top priority. Some of the programs, like Cornerstone Hospice, cover multiple counties where the watches and warnings were different.

As storms begin to approach the state it’s important to maintain constant communication with patients to verify medications and ensure they evacuate safely. Part of a hospice program’s preparedness plan is the ‘Tuck in Process’, which ensures patients have seven days worth of medication, evacuation plans, alternative power for any medical equipment and assistance to a special needs shelter.

The goal is to make sure each patient has a plan and is safe.

Rhonda White’s team used this process during Hurricane Matthew, “We really wanted to verify medications in the home – how much, how many supplies, those kinds of things. Did they understand how to use their oxygen tanks because that is confusing if you’re not used to transferring over to a tank.”

After the storm, there was a feeling of relief because hospice patients and programs did not suffer any catastrophic impact and staff returned to regular operation this week.

You can’t wait to develop a plan. Being in the midst of a serious weather event demands a concrete emergency plan to be in place. Some hospice patients are cared for at an in-patient facility, but the majority are cared for in homes. For hospices, service areas may cross several counties and requires not only a high level of preparedness but also organization.

The care and safety of patients is always a top priority – even during a severe storm.

To learn more about hospice programs in Florida, check out LetHospiceHelp.org or call the hospice helpline at 800-282-6560.