The city of Fort Myers, Florida is slowly recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which made landfall last Wednesday. The impact has created a looming biohazard at one of the city’s main healthcare facilities.
Several staff members at Health Park Medical Center told reporters that the facility’s water system was knocked out Wednesday due to the storm and it still hasn’t been restored. The workers are afraid diseases and infections will spread unless the hospital gets its water back soon.
According to reports, both nurses and patients had to defecate in plastic bags. The bags were then stored in overflowing biohazard waste bins.
Workers also can’t properly disinfect medical equipment for reuse, and some patients have had to go 12 hours or more without drinking water.
The reports have been confirmed by four staff members, who wish to remain anonymous, and three patients.
“Without the water, we can’t flush our toilets,” said an operative assistant at the facility. “We can’t wash our hands. It’s kind of disgusting, but we have to do what we have to do.”
Staff members and patients also had to urinate in plastic containers and then dump them down the drain.
“If we have to poop, we’re pooping in a bag and putting it in our biohazard bins,” the assistant said. “If on accident someone puts toilet paper or gets poop in the toilet, our poor housekeepers have to come and scoop it out so that they can dump a bucket of water down to try to get it to flush.”
Lee Health, the hospital’s parent network, said Health Park Medical Center has faced numerous challenges since the storm made landfall last week.
“The precautions we took were necessary due to the lack of running water in our community. We assure our patients and our staff that the actions we have taken today address these challenges, which were a result of a disaster and infrastructure failure of this magnitude,” said Mary Briggs, a spokesperson for Lee Health.
“Lee Health is committed to its patients, staff and community, and will do everything necessary to ensure safe and quality care for our patients and our teams,” she added.
Some staff members said they don’t blame the facility, which was already stretched thin due to COVID-19, for the current sanitation crisis. The storm took out the water supply for the entire country, and some said there’s only so much the officials could’ve done to prevent the outage.
The hospital is just one of nine healthcare facilities in the area that lost access to running water in the aftermath of the hurricane.
“They’re airlifting kids and hospice patients out because there’s no water,” said a patient named Roberta Hines, who was treated at the hospital after she hurt herself in a fall.
Officials say ambulances from at least 10 different area hospitals are being used to transport patients.
“The feat that everybody has gone to is just amazing,” the assistant said.
Surgeons have had to cancel many operations without running water, but some procedures had to be carried out despite these challenges.
“We cannot properly wash our hands to operate on patients,” the assistant added. “We have no way to sterilize our instrumentation for surgery, so that means that whatever instrumentation we have we have to make last because we can’t reuse it on patients.”
Another patient named Michelle said she was taken to Health Park Medical Center after she got hit by a flying piece of wood.
“Since then, the conditions have worsened,” she said. “Not only can you not use the bathrooms, they’re running out of food as well as water. It’s just one thing on top of another.”
A second hospital assistant, who has lived through several hurricanes in the past, said the current crisis is “unlike anything I have ever experienced.”
“They were accepting patients by EMS until winds reached 80 miles per hour,” the first assistant said. “And once that happened, we couldn’t open our doors because they risked compromising the integrity of the hospital.”
The first assistant added that the storm flooded the parking lot.
“We saw our cars floating sideways.… My car is totaled.”
According to both assistants, the hospital had to choose between running the water or the AC using a generator after the storm took out the power. Officials chose the AC. The generator needs water to function, so a water truck at the hospital is keeping it running.
The staff resorted to giving the patients bottled water after they went hours without anything to drink.
“We ended up giving them the bottled water that we had in our bags that we brought,” the first assistant said.
Port-a-potties finally arrived on Friday afternoon, but the road to recovery is just beginning.