First steps for pharmacy when a hurricane hits

Written by | 14 Feb 2023 | 'In Discussion With'

Pharmacy managers need to plan for the provision of emergency pharmacy services after the hurricane has passed and must bear in mind that wholesalers may be out of action and transport disrupted, according to John A. Armitstead, System Director of Pharmacy at Lee Health in Fort Myers, Florida.

Typically, the medicines in a hurricane pack will include tetanus vaccines, antibiotics, analgesics and products for surgical procedures such as intravenous propofol. Puncture wounds are very common in the wake of hurricanes as people are often waking round damaged building with exposed nails and splinters of wood, notes Mr Armitstead.

In addition to planning for services that the pharmacy will have to deliver in the aftermath of a hurricane, pharmacy managers also need to consider the possibility that the pharmaceutical wholesalers might also be hit by a hurricane. “Our wholesaler happens to be a little bit further north of us – about 150 miles away on the Interstate [Highway] 4 corridor – so we have to prepare for them not being able to service their sites post-hurricane. So, we have to think about not only the impact of the hurricane on us but we’ve got to look at the impact of the hurricane on our suppliers and make sure we have enough drug supply to be able to run through the period of time in which our supplier chain might be broken”, he says.

Hospital Pharmacy managers also track hurricanes that hit other areas of the country and consider what the impact on the supply chain might be. For example, hurricanes that hit mid-Florida or northern Florida could disrupt pharmaceutical supplies and hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico can be a problem because a number of pharmaceutical manufacturing plants are there.

Hurricane damage arises from strong winds, heavy rain and, for coastal areas, storm surges. The best way to describe a storm surge is “the waves …. that you’re used to seeing at the beach – they don’t know where the beach is anymore and they disregard the fact that they should stop at the beach and so, for example, during hurricane Ian we had anywhere from six to ten feet of storm surge”, says Mr Armitstead. This caused significant damage because south west Florida is not far above sea level. “Twelve of my 400 employees … lost their homes during hurricane Ian from total flooding of their home.  I had 32 employees who lost their vehicles – their cars – because they were totally submerged in water and once your car is totally submerged in water, and particularly sea water, it is no longer a viable vehicle”, explains Mr Armitstead.

The hurricane ruined the roof of Mr Armitstead’s home. “I view myself as fortunate as a Southwest Floridian that that was the only thing affected – but basically I need to replace my roof”, he says. There were more than 100 deaths in the region as a direct result of the hurricane and the impact on property, homes and livelihoods was severe. “There were many places that were totally wiped out [by] the storm surge”, he adds.

Some 30 million dollars’ worth of damage was inflicted on health care facilities belonging to Lee Health, mainly as a result of the storm surge.

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