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In the eye of Hurricane Idalia: What doctors do during extreme weather

Protocols differ from hospitals to clinics, and doctors on call sometimes shelter in place with their families.
In the eye of Hurricane Idalia: What doctors do during extreme weather
Posted at 3:34 PM, Aug 29, 2023

Dr. Selina Lin Hofmann vividly remembers September 2017, when Hurricane Irma was to wreak havoc on the west coast of Florida.

She had worked her shift as an eye surgeon, and as she was preparing to depart  her home in Tampa on a flight to Nashville with her husband Michael and son Kristof, the airport closed. All around her neighborhood, gas stations were out of gasoline, or there were long lines. 

The family was able to make it out of Florida to Georgia, as they had a newer electric vehicle that held a 300-mile charge. Along the way, they saw stranded cars and people stuck.

As the National Hurricane Center declared Hurricane Idalia a Category 2 hurricane Tuesday night as it moves northward with top sustained winds of 100 mph, some essential workers such as medical professionals are staying put to care for patients. 

Hospitals and clinics now prepare for more frequent and severe weather scenarios, from hurricanes to floods. Emergency plans are put in place and executed by the staff, with an eye towards care for patients.

In a report by health care executive Attila J. Hertelendy for South Florida Hospital News and Healthcare Report, during a hurricane, hospitals become crucial hubs for emergency medical care. Establishing comprehensive evacuation plans, training staff for emergency scenarios and stockpiling supplies are essential steps to protect lives, he wrote. 

Building resilient infrastructure is important to ensure hospitals can withstand the impact of hurricanes, according to Hertelendy. Hospitals rely on various life-sustaining medical equipment and technologies. Implementing preventive measures such as elevating equipment, waterproofing and creating storage plans helps safeguard the resources. Regular maintenance and testing of backup power systems is also critical. 

When it comes to personnel, if you are a surgeon on call at a hospital, you are required to stay in, Hofmann said. Some bring their entire families to shelter in the hospital. Hospitals will have a shelter-in-place call for physicians on duty, she explained.

Hofmann now works at four different clinics, and the rules are different at clinics. Clinics will follow hurricane watches and school closings.

SEE MORE: Will Idalia join the long list of destructive "I" storms?

As she is scheduled for a shift at a Hillsborough County clinic Wednesday and the schools are closed, the clinic will be closed as well. Even though she is off work as Hurricane Idalia moves through western Florida Wednesday, Hofmann plans to stay put and hunker down with her family at home and will not leave. 

The Hofmanns live two blocks away from Tampa Bay and already the water has receded and drained just as in previous storms. Dr. Hofmann is concerned more about flooding than storm damage as her area is now off the evacuation zone list. 

As a Florida native who grew up in Jacksonville, Hofmann has lived through many hurricanes without electricity.

“Most people who live in Florida decide to hunker down during storms, for better or worse,” she said. 

But the hurricanes and storms in Florida have become more frequent and fierce in recent years, Hofmann said.

“My family and I have been extremely lucky to not have experienced the destruction of hurricanes in Florida such as Ian, Irma, Charlie, Andrew,” Hofmann said. “I remain thankful and count our blessings.”         

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