BERMUDA’S HOSPITAL SYSTEM IS PREPARED FOR EVERYTHING – INCLUDING A HURRICANE
by Erin Silver
Hurricane season is a stressful time for everyone, but Bermuda’s hospital system is well prepared for every emergency.
“Bermuda Hospitals Board is the only hospital on island, so we have to make sure we are able to continue delivering care throughout and after the storm,” said Roslyn Bascombe-Adams, the deputy chief of Emergency and chair of BHB’s Disaster Management Response Committee.
“We cannot medivac people out during the storm, so we have to keep running at all levels no matter what happens and be ready to respond. This means maintaining services for emergency, critical care, acute medical, mental health, long-term care and substance abuse patients.”
In addition to organising staff at all levels to be on-site during the storm, the BHB also ensures that ambulance services are prepared for the worst. But residents must know what to do in an emergency too.
“It is dangerous for ambulances to drive in very high winds, so there are times when we have to tell people to stay where they are and advise on what to do until we can get an ambulance to them as soon as we can safely do so,” says Dr Bascombe-Adams.
Some outpatient hospital-based services, such as dialysis, cannot be postponed, but elective surgeries will be rescheduled until after a hurricane.
“To help minimise the number of people on-site, patients who are ready to go home from inpatient care will be discharged,” said Dr Bascombe-Adams. “But we invite mothers who are near term or high risk, to come in should something happen when it’s not possible to travel due to the weather or damage immediately after.”
Generators are tested regularly and, before a storm, final preparations will be made at all facilities. Staff will also receive up-to-the-minute communications to ensure everyone is prepared leading up to a storm and after, when things return to normal.
“In some ways, we are now better protected as many staff are now vaccinated,” said Dr Bascombe-Adams. “This is critical as during a storm we are locked down together inside. We are not only working together, but frequently have to use communal sleeping spaces such as offices and meeting rooms. Additionally, our cafeteria no longer has seating as eating and drinking together is a high transmission risk activity and during the storm we cannot go out to eat. For this reason, we had reviewed our processes to respond to the pandemic, but the key was simply to follow the precautions.”
The hospital system was lucky that the two storms last year did not coincide with a period when there were high numbers of Covid-19 patients or community cases. The hardest part of managing the storms in 2020 was the precaution taken with the moms-to-be; their partners couldn’t accompany them in order to limit the number of people coming into the facility.
“We already have hundreds of inpatients and on-site staff to feed and manage, and so we do not have available refreshments or rest areas for people who do not need to be on-site,” said Dr Bascombe-Adams.
Anyone with an emergency or who is in need of medical advice during a hurricane should call the Emergency Department at 239-1301 or, if it is a life-threatening situation, call 911.
“Do not try to drive to the hospital in the middle of the storm. We will make every effort to get to you,” Dr Bascombe-Adams said.
To reduce the need for emergency care during a hurricane in the coming season, experts issued the following advice:
Have a first aid kit, food and additional supplies of any medications for those who need to take medicine regularly.
People with diabetes should have enough medication and, if needed, insulin and enough snacks to help manage their blood sugar. “We want people to be able to manage their medical conditions through the storm and also through any disruption afterwards due to roads being unpassable and shops being closed. This preparation can prevent an emergency situation," Dr Bascombe-Adams said.
Moms-to-be who are near term, or those deemed high-risk by their obstetrician, can come in advance of the storm in case they go into labour or need medical attention but they should first speak with their obstetrician or the Maternity Department.
Dialysis patients whose treatment appointments are impacted by the storm will be called in early.
People who need oxygen at home and are worried about losing power should go to the Government shelter, which opens at CedarBridge Academy during hurricanes. They should not show up at the hospital.
Everyone should try to be very careful during and after a storm. Do not go out until it is safe to avoid unnecessary emergency situations.
Pay special attention to government advice regarding storm surges and rainfall. Information for the general public is available online via the media and the government website and also over the radio.