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Florida hospital without running water faces a sanitation crisis in the wake of Hurricane Ian
Workers and patients said the facility's running water went out after Hurricane Ian hit. High-risk patients are being evacuated by ambulance and helicopter.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hurricane Ian has created a burgeoning biohazard situation in at least one Florida hospital close to where the storm first made landfall.
Staffers at the Health Park Medical Center in Fort Myers told NBC News that the facility's running water went out Wednesday and hasn't yet been restored. If water service isn't back soon, the workers said, they fear disease outbreaks and infections in the wake of the storm.
Patients and nurses alike have been forced to defecate in plastic bags, then store the waste in overflowing biohazard bins, staffers and patients said.
Workers said they can't properly sanitize medical instruments for reuse, and some patients went over a dozen hours without drinking any water.
Details of the water outage and its consequences were confirmed by four staffers, who all asked not to be identified by name for fear of jeopardizing their employment, as well as three patients.
"Without the water, we can’t flush our toilets," said an operative assistant. "We can’t wash our hands. It’s kind of disgusting, but we have to do what we have to do."
Patients and staffers alike have been forced to urinate in containers that are then dumped down the drain, the assistants said.
"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 Friday that its facilities and staff have faced numerous challenges while operating since Ian made landfall.
"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. 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," Mary Briggs, spokesperson for Lee Health, said in a statement.
Some staff members said that they didn't blame Lee Health for the situation, saying the facility had already been stretched thin due to Covid. Adding a hurricane, which knocked out the water supply to the entire county, to the mix pushed the hospital's infrastructure and resources to a breaking point.
Health Park Medical Center was one of at least nine hospitals in Florida known to have lost access to running water as of Thursday.
Hurricane Ian made landfall on Wednesday just east of Fort Myers, as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds up to 150 mph. It has caused widespread power and sanitary outages. At least 23 people have died in Florida due to the storm, officials confirmed Friday night.
Health Park Medical Center began evacuating patients at the highest risk on Thursday, via ambulance and helicopter.