Premature and ill babies from Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida were relocated to South Florida children’s hospitals Friday after Hurricane Ian left Lee County without potable water.
Ronald Ford, chief medical officer of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood said the babies arrived by air ambulances and ground transports.
“Golisano recognized early that they weren’t going to be able to sustain the care of the babies in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) long enough to recover,” Ford said.
Ford said in total, 67 babies needed to be relocated. Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospitals and two others in the Memorial Healthcare system were able to take up to 22 babies. As of Friday afternoon, nine had arrived.
“It’s been a constant stream of communication between our team and their team to identify which babies came first, how they would be transported, and what type of care they need,” Ford said.
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In a Facebook video, Lee Health President and CEO Larry Antonucci explained the situation: “At the present time, our structures and our facilities are in good shape. They weathered the storm well. But our infrastructure is challenged in the way of water supply and power.”
Antonucci said the health system used its generators. But some of its hospitals, including Golisano Children’s Hospital, do not have running water. “We cannot run a health system without running water,” he said. “It’s critical to what we do.”
Even as the babies were relocated, hospital workers were struggling to reach their parents. Power outages and downed cell towers have made communication difficult in counties battered by the Ian.
In Miami-Dade, seven children were relocated to Nicklaus Children’s from Golisano — five were transferred to the NICU and two to the hematology-oncology unit.
Both South Florida children’s hospitals said they are working to locate the babies’ families and provide assistance, recognizing some may have lost their homes.
“We are coordinating all efforts through our clinical and social work teams to address the needs of each family, providing guidance on hotels that offer discounts to our patient families when needed and a hospitality gift bag,” said Fuad Kiuhan, communications director for Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. “Parents are able to remain in the patient’s private room in many instances.”
Florida has 15 children’s hospitals. Along with South Florida, children’s hospitals in Naples, Orlando and St. Petersburg will receive babies from Golisano. NCH North Naples, where the medical group practice of Nicklaus Children’s Health System provides pediatric inpatient services, received seven pediatric transfers and six neonatal unit transfers from Golisano.