South Florida Hospital News
Thursday August 6, 2020

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November 2017 - Volume 14 - Issue 5

When Hurricanes Strike, VITAS Healthcare Rises to the Occasion

As Hurricane Irma made its way across the Atlantic and took aim at Florida, VITAS Healthcare, the nation’s leading hospice care provider, swung into well-oiled action as our Florida programs went into disaster preparation and recovery mode.

From addressing the myriad concerns of patients and families, to supporting employees and assuring physicians whose patients we care for, VITAS set new benchmarks of compassion and dedication, and gave true meaning to the term, “#VITASstrong.”
Patients and families come first
Once a direct hit on South Florida became imminent, the company leadership initiated the detailed disaster preparation and recovery plan designed to prevent any breakdown in patient care before, during and after a storm. The key to successful implementation of the plan is clear, concise communication.
A few days before the storm, the Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach programs’ leadership began the drill, reaching out to every patient under our care. Employees came together like an army, working 24/7, including weekends, to create detailed patient logs recording:
• Whether patients were evacuating
• Their location during the storm
• Whether patients’ medical equipment needed service
• Whether patients had enough food, medication, oxygen tanks and other medical supplies
Employees put in long hours to visit patients, reassure them and make last-minute deliveries. VITAS leadership maintained constant communication through phone support to ensure all patients were evacuated, as needed. Programs arranged for transportation and successfully moved complex and ALF patients to IPUs since it was impossible to provide continuous care.
Staff did not forget about referral sources and other community partners, reaching out to them before and after the storm to make sure they had the support they needed.
When Hurricane Irma came ashore
As winds started gusting and roads became unsafe for employees to visits patients, VITAS Care Connection Center took over—a 24/7/365 link to clinicians, medical advice, support and hands-on care. Additionally, a 24-hour VITAS emergency line was set up to keep patients, their families and employees updated about the storm.
Some inpatient hospice unit staff remained at their respective IPUs through the storm, at times losing power and relying on generators. They maintained their composure, cared for their patients and made sure their staff got needed rest. They stayed after the storm to ensure smooth staff transition before heading home to take care of their families.
In the calm after the storm
Hurricane Irma left a trail of destruction in its wake — millions without power for days, damaged homes, flooding, uprooted trees and more.
As people were allowed back on the roads, VITAS teams were back in action, visiting their patients, working with local facilities to make sure patients were not affected by power loss or generator failures, and offering support.
The selflessness and professionalism displayed by VITAS employees explains why VITAS has such strong ties to the communities we serve.
Supporting impacted employees
Many VITAS employees were left with damaged homes, loss of property and no power. Their company and their colleagues stepped up to assist them. VITAS offered monetary assistance, while co-workers opened their homes, brought hot food and helped in every way possible.
It was a trying time, but what emerged was the reaffirmation that VITAS is a compassionate company staffed by professionals who do whatever is needed to take care of patients, patients’ families and each other.

Maureen Knips is Vice President of Operations, VITAS Healthcare.

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