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Coastal Georgia Hospitals, Nursing Homes Prepare For Hurricane Dorian

On Grand Bahama Island, a volunteer stands in a road Tuesday that was flooded by Hurricane Dorian. The storm’s punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters caused devastation in the Bahamas. As Dorian was making its way north, medical facilities along the Georgia coast were getting ready for the storm.
On Grand Bahama Island, a volunteer stands in a road Tuesday that was flooded by Hurricane Dorian. The storm’s punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters caused devastation in the Bahamas. As Dorian was making its way north, medical facilities along the Georgia coast were getting ready for the storm.
Credit Ramon Espinosa / Associated Press
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Medical facilities up and down the Georgia coast are getting ready for Hurricane Dorian. Some by hunkering down, others by evacuating patients.

Gov. Brian Kemp issued a mandatory evacuation for residents of six Georgia counties living east of Interstate 95, but many hospitals in the area say they’re planning to keep their doors open.

Southeast Georgia Health System says it doesn’t plan to shutter its emergency rooms in Brunswick and St. Marys.

“Our goal is to always keep our acute-care hospitals open when we can, so that we’re available to the community, especially to first responders, both before, during and after a hurricane,” said Christy Jordan, chief operating officer of Southeast Georgia Health System.

Jordan says the hospitals have activated hundreds of additional staff and enough supplies to last upwards of a week to weather the storm.

Memorial Health, which operates a hospital in Savannah, is undergoing similar preparations.

“We’ve brought in extra medical supplies, fuel, water, food, linens and equipment to ensure we can meet the care needs of our community and keep our team members and physicians safe,” said Shayne George, CEO of Memorial Health.

The St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System in Savannah also says it plans to keep its hospitals open, though with reduced services.

It’s a different story when it comes to many of the nursing homes in the region.

Southeast Georgia Health System operates two facilities in Brunswick and St. Marys. The patients from those nursing homes have already been relocated to Valdosta. Jordan says, unlike hospitals, nursing homes tend not to be built to withstand strong storms.

“You don’t have the same type of hurricane-proof windows [and] other types of things … at really any skilled nursing facilities that I know of, so it’s safest to evacuate those patients,” she said.

But not every nursing home in the evacuation zone has decided to move those in its care farther inland.

The Georgia Department of Public Health says about half the facilities in the area had decided to shelter in place. The agency stressed, however, that more might decide to evacuate as conditions change.

Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities isn’t taking any chances with patients at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah, many of whom have serious and persistent mental illnesses.

The agency plans to move 175 patients and the staff who serve them to a state hospital in Augusta starting Wednesday morning.

Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald says the main challenge is providing consistent care to patients as they’re evacuated.

“As you might imagine, people with mental health challenges who have a very predictable routine, just like any of us, when that routine is changed …  that can be very unsettling and it can impact their well-being,” she said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the forecast from the National Hurricane Center puts Hurricane Dorian off the Georgia coast Wednesday evening.