Will hospitals close during Hurricane Irma? Some already are evacuating

As Hurricane Irma looks likely to lock in on a South Florida landfall, all three of Monroe County’s hospitals are being evacuated and will be closed by Friday morning. Most hospitals in Miami-Dade remain open for now.

Miami-Dade County ordered its first mandatory evacuation in 12 years Wednesday, impacting more than 100,000 residents of Miami Beach, barrier islands and low-lying mainland areas.

Jackson Health System, the county’s public hospital system, said in a statement Friday that it would start operating in a state of emergency starting Saturday at 7 a.m. It said it had already canceled its appointments at its ambulatory care and primary care centers, and that its pharmacy and urgent care centers would close at 3 p.m. Friday. Emergency rooms at all of its facilities — including the flagship Jackson Memorial Hospital, Jackson North Medical Center in North Miami Beach and Jackson South Community Hospital in South Miami-Dade — will remain open.

Mount Sinai Medical Center, whose main campus is located on Miami Beach, said as of Thursday morning that it would not evacuate patients or essential staff. The center’s emergency centers in Miami Beach and Aventura also plan to remain open, said center president and CEO Steven D. Sonenreich.

“It is important to note that Mount Sinai is not a public shelter and once we are under a Hurricane/Tropical Storm Watch, only persons with medical emergencies, third-trimester maternity patients and individuals with special needs previously assigned to Mount Sinai will be accepted,” he said.

Not all hospitals are staying open. Mercy Hospital in Miami, which is operated by Hospital Corporation of America, began evacuating more than 200 patients to other HCA East Florida facilities Wednesday and closed its emergency room in a “precautionary measure,” it said in a statement.

“The evacuation will be completed as soon as possible, and all patients are continuing to receive treatment during this time,” it said.

Other HCA hospitals, including Aventura Hospital and Medical Center, said they are remaining open to care for patients and storm victims.

Tenet Healthcare, which operates Coral Gables Hospital, Hialeah Hospital, North Shore Medical Center in Miami and Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah, said it was following directions from the county and taking operations “day by day,” according to spokeswoman Shelly Weiss.

“If people can postpone an elective procedure, that would make the most sense,” Weiss said. She added that some people had already arrived in some of Tenet’s hospitals with injuries from putting up shutters and urged people to prepare for the storm. “Hospitals are not shelters” and people should make arrangements as quickly as possible for where they will ride out the hurricane, she said.

The University of Miami Health System closed its ambulatory clinics and canceled outpatient services starting Thursday, though dialysis and cancer treatments will continue until Friday. Its hospitals are scheduled to remain open.

Nicklaus Children’s Hospital will continue scheduled surgeries Thursday but is canceling future minor procedures and elective surgeries starting Friday through the storm.

In Broward, Memorial Healthcare System said its hospitals remain open for emergency services but canceled events and seminars scheduled from Wednesday through the weekend. Broward Health spokeswoman Danielle Aird said its emergency rooms and trauma centers also plan to remain open through the storm.

Cleveland Clinic Florida said its medical offices in Broward and Palm Beach counties will close at noon Friday, though its emergency department in Weston will remain open.

Baptist Health said in a statement Tuesday that all of its hospitals and centers were expected to normally operate through Friday. Its Monroe County hospitals, however, are evacuating and closing after the Keys issued a mandatory evacuation order for visitors on Wednesday and told residents to get out on Thursday.

Jennifer Pages, the manager of marketing and communications for Fishermen’s Community Hospital and Mariners Hospital in Tavernier, told the Keynoter that it had started canceling patient appointments and elective surgeries earlier in the week.

Fishermen’s Hospital in Marathon closed its doors at 7 a.m. Thursday after evacuating its 25-bed facility, and Mariners Hospital in Tavernier, which also has 25 beds and is a critical-access hospital, is scheduled to close at 7 p.m. Thursday. Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West, a 167-bed facility, was being evacuated with help from the North Carolina National Guard and is closing on 7 a.m. Friday, according to the county.

The Keys hospitals will not reopen until the storm passes and evacuated staffers can return to work, the county said in a statement. The county’s air ambulance helicopters will also stop operating at 7 a.m. Friday.