How Envision teammates stepped up during Hurricane Ian to protect patients and each other in Florida

When hurricanes happen, our thoughts first go to our teammates and partners in the path of the storm. Are they safe? Do they have the resources and support they need? But more than that, as a medical group, we have an obligation to the patients and communities we serve.

In preparation for Hurricane Ian, Envision leaders stood up the Incident Response Task Force, led by Dr. Brian Baxter, President of Alliance National Group, and Dr. Christopher Scott, Senior Vice President for HCA West Florida Region. “We have been doing hurricane response for years and have a good process in place for Florida, but Mother Nature gave us a break over the last three years. So, when hurricane season approached, we knew that we had to get ready,” Dr. Baxter said.

“No one anticipated the hurricane to turn toward Fawcett,” said Dr. Ali Vaziri, Hospital Medicine Site Medical Director for Fawcett Memorial Hospital.

In the days leading up to Hurricane Ian’s arrival, the team had been preparing for the storm, but all projections showed the storm moving north toward Tampa. However, on Tuesday, Oct. 4 the winds shifted, and the team braced for the Category 4 hurricane’s impact.

Dr. Alaina Hunt, Emergency Medicine Site Medical Director for Fawcett Memorial Hospital, was on point in the emergency department that day. “We knew from Hurricane Charlie that the ER flooded, so our team started by moving the ER up to the PACU, making a makeshift ER up there.”

Meanwhile, in the ICU, Envision hospitalists Dr. Michael Stagg and Dr. Elise Lambird were holding down the fort. The ICU is located on the fourth floor, making what that team did even more impressive, Dr. Vaziri says. “The roof of the ICU came off. Water started to collect and then started trickling down to floors below, causing the elevators to short out.”

Dr. Hunt and her team immediately jumped into action. “I immediately started assigning teammates to figure out where we could mobilize patients,” she said. “Our team started waking up and moving patients out of the ICU. Some patients were intubated and had to be manually bagged for transport.”

“One by one, the team carried patients down to floors below; wherever they could find a bed or a safe place to put them,” Dr. Vaziri said. “Truly heroic.”

At this point, the team began evacuating patients. Around 1,000 patients were evacuated from Lee County. Envision teammates at a different hospital in Brooksville took in several med-surg patients. Amy Nixon, DCI, Dr. Eric Sladek and Dr. Monicka Felix coordinated with the resident team to ensure patients were evacuated safely.

Gulf Coast Endoscopy Center South, an AMSURG partner center in Fort Myers, was not immune to the storm’s devastating impact. 

Teammates preparing supplies

“This team has truly stuck together through some of the worst times of their lives,” said AMSURG Director of Operations Alex Blair.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, Blair loaded a truck with supplies and headed to the ambulatory surgery center. Nearing the facility, Blair said she encountered a city that looked more like a war zone than a thriving tourist town, with debris piled on the shoulders of roads, non-functioning traffic lights and National Guard members at intersections guiding traffic.

As Blair and the Gulf Coast Endoscopy Center South team have demonstrated, recovery isn’t measured by what you put back up. The recovery process begins as soon as people come together to bring hope to survivors.

“I was encouraged to see how they stuck together when they themselves are struggling through the hurricane aftermath,” Blair said. “They prevailed. Safe. And together.”

As stories rolled in from teammates across the state, Radiology Services’ Chief Clinical Officer Dr. David Dascal and Senior Vice President Dr. Roi Bittane jumped into action.

Dr. Dascal (left) and Dr. Bittane (right) loading up supplies

“We had called all our radiology teammates in the area where Hurricane Ian had made landfall,” said Dr. Dascal. “A few responded, saying they were in need of assistance. For some, it was help getting off shift – one physician had been at the hospital for three days. Others needed supplies.”

It was Roi’s idea to deliver the supplies. “We made a list of the needs we were hearing from people and loaded up.”

The duo arrived in Port Charlotte and Sarasota with resources like generators, gas, water and canned foods and a ready willingness to lend a hand.

“We realized quickly that we were going to have to get creative to get to everyone,” Dr. Dascal said. “Roi is the military guy, so he had a tow rope and all kinds of other gadgets to help. I was in good hands.”

Road conditions in Southwest Florida on Oct. 4

Throughout the day, they traveled to any teammate they could reach, providing supplies, support and a friendly face. Dr. Dascal reflected on the state of his team. “They were all so happy to see us, but they were struggling.”

“I really just want to say, ‘thank you,’” Dr. Baxter said. “The collaboration across teams was incredible. Everyone worked together. Everyone was focused on doing what was best for patients and each other. No one complained or asked why. When things got hairy, they jumped right in. And that sentiment has been echoed all over by both Envision leaders and our hospital partners.”

"I am most proud of the teamwork and comradery that was displayed,” Dr. Scott said. “Everyone came together. Providers stepped up to help each other and ensure patients were safe. It’s one thing to be a company, but when we start to think of each other as family, it takes a whole different slant.”

At Envision, caring deeply for each other is core to what we do and who we are. No matter someone’s role, the city in which they live or their proximity to the bedside, we each are here to make a difference. As devastating as events like Hurricane Ian can be, they also can bring out the best in people and unite us as a team and a community.