We want to bring you up to date on what we know so far about Community Health Centers that were in the path of Hurricane Michael. Conditions on the ground in and around the disaster zone have made it challenging to get information about recovery from the storm, which five days ago cut a destructive and deadly swath through the Florida panhandle, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Florida bore the brunt of the storm and many of the worst hit communities still lack power and cell service.
Initial reports from the Florida Association of Community Health Centers, Inc. (FACHC) indicate that a couple of health centers sustained heavy damage from the storm and a dozen have minor damage but are not opened due to debris in the area or dangerous road conditions and restricted access in the community. One problem that has been identified and is being addressed is providers/staff with destroyed homes/apartments. Pancare Health Center, located in Panama City, reports that roughly 100 members of their staff and their families are homeless. Amazingly, many of those affected are still reporting to work. Health centers and their staff typically play dual roles as victims and responders to disasters.
Mobile units from other Community Health Centers have been promised to impacted health centers to help with care. Direct Relief has also swung into action and is on the ground with medical supplies and emergency health kits, which contain medical supplies to treat up to 100 people for 3 to 5 days. Emergency medical backpacks containing first aid supplies for first responders doing triage have also been dispatched to hurricane damaged areas. In a video dispatch from Mexico Beach, Direct Relief’s Emergency Response Director Andrew MacCalla described how the organization is readying a large shipment of solar arrays and battery back ups due to the fact that most of the area is without power.
We’ve also heard that Albany Area Primary Health Care, a health center located in rural Albany, GA, is facing a vaccine shortage as a result of the storm and is working with Direct Relief and Americares to replenish their supply.
And in North Carolina, where the recovery from last month’s hurricane is still underway, another storm was the last thing residents and health centers needed. The storm forced several health centers to close as they were still recovering from the floodwaters and damage from Florence, according to the North Carolina Community Health Center Association.
We heard from one health center with sites located in the eastern part of the state:
“We have one practice location that remains out of operation due to Hurricane Florence. Many communities in our service area have been devastated and will remain in recovery months from now” said Pamela Tripp of CommWell Heath. “Some of the rural counties we serve such as Pender and Brunswick still have shelters who are now supporting the most vulnerable individuals and families – some are now homeless. CommWell Health has partnered with national and local organizations and churches to collect items to assist these families in the area. For us, the recent hurricane activity has underscored how our buildings need significant renovations and infrastructure support.”
We’ll keep you posted as more information comes in.