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Hurricane Charley

As hospitals grow, they fortify to code

New buildings and upgrades are designed to weather storms. Hospitals' emergency plans were tested.

Published August 22, 2004

BROOKSVILLE - The ferocity of Hurricane Charley may have forced three Charlotte County hospitals to close, but it did not panic Hernando hospital executives.

They said their hospitals have detailed emergency plans that worked well in this month's real-time drill, and their existing structures and planned new construction are designed to weather a storm as best as possible.

Rob Foreman of Hernando HealthCare said Spring Hill Regional Hospital received several upgrades because of its recent expansion. The new neonatal intensive care unit, birth center, nursing floor and emergency room, and every system supporting them, have been renovated and brought up to existing codes, he said.

Even the new automatic door leading into the emergency room was designed specifically to meet wind load requirements while also remaining easy to open by a person with disabilities, Foreman said.

The existing Brooksville Regional Hospital has its limitations, such as needing sandbags to cope with possible flooding, he said. But it was as prepared as possible in the event of a storm, he said.

The new Brooksville Regional, which is under construction on State Road 50 at Lykes Dublin Road, falls under the most updated and stringent building, fire protection, architecture and related codes, Foreman added.

"This hospital is going to be built like a brick," he said. "We've elevated our pad like 6 feet. . . . All of the steel is way past spec. All of the air conditioning, generators, everything."

It is being designed for worst-case scenarios, Foreman said. It will have enough backup generators to support all functions, he said, whereas the existing hospital generators could run only critical needs.

A spokeswoman for Oak Hill Hospital said executives have not yet reviewed their storm preparedness in detail.

"One thing we were pleased with here at Oak Hill is we literally enacted our emergency response plan Thursday around noontime," spokeswoman Mindy Lucas said.

The staff was assigned to two teams, on separate shifts, and brought in to care for patients.

"We were just pleased in hindsight . . . at how well this plan fleshed out," Lucas said.

Brooksville Regional and Spring Hill Regional also implemented their emergency plans early, Foreman said. The hospitals brought on-call specialists in so they would be available if needed.

They also set up programs to allow patients' family members to remain in the hospitals, to reduce the amount of worrying without disrupting care, Foreman said.

None of the hospitals received patients from the areas that were hit by Hurricane Charley. They did send teams of doctors and nurses into the affected areas.

[Last modified August 22, 2004, 01:25:20]

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