As concerned Gainesville residents spent last week huddled around their TVs to follow Hurricane Idalia's path, first responders prepared for the worst.
Hurricane Idalia made landfall as a Category 3 storm in Florida's Big Bend region Aug. 30. Although earlier projections predicted a direct hit to Gainesville, cities such as Cedar Key, Steinhatchee and Perry suffered the brunt of the storm's 125 mph winds and 7-foot water surges.
First responders and health facilities across Gainesville enacted emergency plans in preparation for injuries and other issues resulting from hurricane-force wind and rain in the days leading up to Idalia's arrival.
UF Health leadership began monitoring the storm when the National Hurricane Center designated it as a tropical storm last week, UF Health spokesperson Gary Mans said.
“We made the decision that for the safety of our patients and staff that we would close all of our outpatient clinical facilities, as well as reschedule outpatient non-emergent surgeries and procedures,” Mans said.
Once the storm was upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane, UF Health opened its Command Center, which is activated during emergencies to guide its teams’ response to anticipated mass-casualty or infrastructure emergencies.
“The Command Center was staffed 24/7 to ensure we were prepared to meet operational needs and care for patients throughout the storm, as well as accept patient transfers if other hospitals implemented evacuation plans,” he said.
HCA Florida Healthcare hospitals continued to maintain readiness following Idalia’s landfall, Lauren Lettelier, director of communications and community engagement, said.
“HCA Florida North Florida Hospital is continuing to operate as normal, and our dedicated caregivers stand ready to care for our community,” Lettelier said.
Andrea Morales, a 21-year-old R.N. in neuroscience at HCA Florida North Florida Hospital, worked her first disaster shift as part of emergency management for Hurricane Idalia.
Staff were assigned to either A team or B team where staff switched off shifts so they could rest, and the hospital provided things such as showers and air mattresses, Morales said.
“It was obviously kind of chaotic, staff had a lot of questions, but our charge nurse and leadership worked hard to get us settled as best as they could on short notice,” Morales said.
Morales doesn't believe patient care at the hospital was affected by the storm. The hospital staff did their best to ensure patients felt supported, she said.
“The last thing we [wanted] to do is make them anxious,” Morales said.
Local nursing homes also remained fully operational through the storm.
Melody Clemons is the director of nursing at Signature Healthcare of Gainesville. There were times during the storm when residents were clear to go outside on the patio, she said.
“I think the residents were fine because we were all here,” she said.
Besides reports of fallen trees and power outages, the storm had minimal impacts on the health and well-being of the Gainesville community, Kathy Steidley, administrative assistant to the fire chief, said.
Under the guidance of Gainesville Fire and Rescue’s Emergency Management Division, the City enacted the Comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan.
The plan covers each phase of emergency management to make cleaning hurricane aftermath as efficient as possible.
“The lead agency for debris removal [is] the Department of Public Works. While other internal departments may offer assistance, a list of approved contractors is available in the worst-case scenario,” Steidley said.
Alachua County Fire Rescue relocated its equipment to more secure, stable structures and staffed additional personnel for various units to ensure emergent services were fully functional during storm conditions.
Jeff Taylor, Deputy Chief of Alachua County Fire Rescue, said it is crucial for Gainesville residents to follow the proper safety precautions set by the Emergency Management division.
"Stay off the roadways and hunker down while you wait for the roadways to be clear," he said.
The department is working to reopen roadways and ensure roads are safe for driving following the storm, he said.
Kylie Williams and Garrett Shanley contributed to this story.
Contact Jinelle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Twitter @vazquezjinelle.
Jinelle Vazquez is a senior at UF pursuing a major in Public Health with a minor in Indigenous Studies. They currently report for the enterprise desk covering health. In their free time, they enjoy hiking, photography and making art.