Florence Has Forced The Transfer Of Dozens Of Hospital Patients

Sep 19, 2018

UNC Carolina AirCare helicopter lands to pick up a pediatric team from UNC Hospitals. The crew will then pick up a neonatal patient from Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville, where the Cape Fear River flooded.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

Hurricane Florence forced a lot of people from their homes. The storm also forced hospitals in affected areas to shift patients to other facilities − making the healing process that much harder.

Christian  Lawson, an emergency room nurse by training, has  seen his share of natural disasters, having worked in hospitals in Tennessee, Georgia, and California.

"The only thing I really haven't been in is a bad earthquake," Lawson said.

Lawson is now Director of Emergency Services at UNC Hospitals. As part of his job, Lawson oversees Carolina AirCare, the fleet of helicopters that ferries patients and supplies to and from UNC.

Eighty patients have been transported to UNC Hospitals due to Florence with an array of conditions, from respiratory failure to sepsis.

"We've seen patients from newborns all the way to senior citizens from nursing homes," said Kathryn Handley, Director of Patient Logistics for UNC Hospitals.

A flight crew with UNC Carolina AirCare prepares to take off and ferry a neonatal patient from Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, in flooded Cumberland County, back to UNC Hospitals, in Chapel Hill.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

These storm-related transfers add to the stress patients already bear in dealing with their illnesses. Lawson said it's hard to imagine the worries that must be swirling through the minds of patients uprooted from one hospital bed, whisked to an unfamiliar facility, all while fretting over the storm's impact to their lives.

"What's happening back home? What's  happening to my family? What's happening to my pets? What's happening to my house, my apartment, etc, my personal belongings? It really can impact the ability to heal because of all those additional emotional stressors," said Lawson.

Many of the areas in the  state flooded by Florence were still recovering from Hurricane Matthew.

The 2016 storm may have provided one benefit, though – if you can call it that – according to Christian Lawson. It gave the state and its main hospitals a chance to review how they coordinate the transfer of patients when disaster strikes.

"This time around it felt very organized, very excellent communication from state through Duke to all of those hospitals across the state that were supporting the accepting of these patients," Lawson said.

Duke Health is coordinating hospital transfers for the state Emergency Operations Center.