Thousands of people evacuated from Florida nursing homes, hospitals

About 45 nursing homes, serving 3,500 people, have been evacuated.

September 29, 2022, 6:12 PM

Thousands of nursing home residents and hospital patients across Florida have been evacuated in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian as the storm heads north.

As of Thursday afternoon, 45 nursing homes were evacuated -- impacting about 3,500 residents -- as were 115 assisted-living facilities, according to the Florida Health Care Association.

Kristen Knapp, senior director of strategy and communication for the FHCA, said most of the nursing homes "are in the low-lying areas where counties had issued evacuation orders."

"About 15 or 20 buildings are either running on full or partial generator power, but some of those are evacuated buildings so no one is in them," she told ABC News.

Under Florida law, generators must be able to provide four days' worth of power at assisted-living communities and nursing homes within 24 hours of a state of emergency being issued.

Evacuees are being transferred to nearby hospitals and shelters to wait out the storm while damages to buildings are being assessed.

Knapp said evacuators were taking steps to ensure elderly patients don't suffer transfer trauma -- which occurs when an elderly person experiences stress when changing living environments -- during this process.

"Evacuations always pose a concern about transfer trauma, we care for very frail elders who have complex medical needs, require oxygen, have Alzheimer's or dementia so we have to account for their mental health needs as well in the midst of an evacuation," she said in a statement.

As Ian moved into the central part of the state, dumping more than 16 inches of rain in a span of 24 hours, some nursing homes were left to evacuate under severe circumstances.

Orange County Fire Rescue shared photos and videos on Twitter Thursday morning of a rescue at Avante at Orlando, a nursing home about 10 miles north of Orlando International Airport.

PHOTO: Various containers and clothes soak up floodwater near debris at an area at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, Fla., Sept. 28, 2022.
Various containers and clothes soak up floodwater near debris at an area at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, Fla., Sept. 28, 2022.
Dr. Birgit Bodine via AP

Paramedics were pictured wheeling residents on stretchers and wheelchairs to waiting ambulances and buses.

Staff at the nursing homes used sandbags to soak up the anticipated rainfall, but it didn't stop water from seeping into the building.

"It was ankle deep when I walked in, but within a short time it was up to my waist," a member of the Fire Rescue team told ABC News.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office tweeted that in certain neighborhoods, flooding waters were "at least waist deep."

"Stay indoors. Stay sheltered," Sheriff John Mina said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. "There's a lot of standing water out there. We've had significant flooding throughout parts of Orange County...I'd encourage everyone to stay inside at this time."

Thousands of people were also evacuated from hospitals, especially in the battered southwestern part of the state.

At HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte -- about 30 miles northwest of Fort Myers -- the storm caused significant damage.

Storm surges led to flooding in the ground floor emergency room while powerful winds tore a section of the roof on the fourth floor, where the intensive care unit is located

Dr. Birgit Bodine, an internal medicine specialist, told the Associated Press that staff members assumed the hurricane might cause some damage but "we didn't anticipate that the roof would blow off on the fourth floor."

She said flooding in the ICU forced employees to transfer patients, some of whom were on ventilators, to other floors while other staff members used towels and plastic bins to prevent further flooding.

"For us, as much as everything is terrible and we're long as our patients do OK and nobody ends up dying or having a bad outcome, that's what matters," Bodine told the AP.

Mary Mahew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, said most hospitals did not suffer storm damage but one hospital system based in southwest Florida, Lee Health, will need to evacuate patients after being left without potable water.

"The biggest challenge is the lack of access to the public infrastructure with the utility, with the electrical grid down, they no longer have access to water," she told ABC News. "And that is what has forced them to deal with the evacuation of their patients because they cannot safely care for their patients without water."

PHOTO: A staff member stands in a flooded hallway at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, Fla., Sept. 28, 2022.
A staff member stands in a flooded hallway at HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, Fla., Sept. 28, 2022.
Dr. Birgit Bodine via AP

Lee Health is currently evacuating about 1,000 patients to hospitals in neighboring regions.

Dr. Joseph Perno, vice president of medical affairs, at Johns Hopkins All Children's in St. Petersburg -- about 20 miles southwest of Tampa -- said the storm did not cause significant flooding in his area and the hospital is ready to accept any patients from other hospitals who were evacuated.

"We have been in contact with several hospitals and said, 'If you need us, we're here for you,'" he told ABC News. "We've been doing an inventory on our staff and our empty beds to see what we could handle if any of the hospitals south of us need help. We want to be ready to help them, so we're prepared to help not only our local community, but also the community most impacted by this terrible storm."

ABC News' Janai Norman and Gina Sunseri contributed to this report.