Preparing the pharmacy service for a hurricane

Written by | 13 Feb 2023 | 'In Discussion With'

John A. Armitstead is the System Director of Pharmacy at Lee Health in Fort Myers, Florida. During the past five years, Fort Myers has twice been hit by a major hurricane (Irma in 2017, Ian in 2022), making him possibly the most hurricane-experienced pharmacy director in the United States.  IMI spoke to him to find out more about his experiences.

As System Director of Pharmacy at Lee Health Mr Armitstead is responsible for 400 pharmacy employees in 15 different sites. These include five hospitals, a micro-hospital, a home infusion service, a mail order pharmacy and an infusion site pharmacy all of which deliver care to the citizens of Lee County, Florida.

Fort Myers is situated on the south west portion of the Florida Peninsula; to the south lie the Straits of Florida and the country of Cuba and to the west lies the Gulf of Mexico. “An interesting fact is that we are closer to the capital of Cuba – Havana – than we are our own state capital in Tallahassee, Florida so we are pretty far south in Florida”, says Mr Armitstead.

On September the 28th 2022 hurricane Ian made landfall at Fort Myers Beach and – over the next few hours – brought devastation to a wide area of south west Florida. Preparations for hurricanes are made well in advance. The hurricane season in Florida runs from June 1st to November 1st, so hurricane Ian fell right in the middle of the season.

“Every year …. we establish a hurricane pack or a wish list of pharmaceuticals that we might need prior to a hurricane from our wholesaler”, says Mr Armitstead. The pack is not ordered immediately but in response to the anticipated arrival of a hurricane. “We watch the tropics and most of the hurricanes in this area of the country ….. begin by spinning off the Western portion of Africa. …. we watch for the possibility of hurricanes all season during that time period and then if one is starting to approach and looks like it will make landfall in Florida, we would order the hurricane pack prior to the hurricane arriving”, he explains.

The hurricane packs are delivered on pallets and contain sufficient drug supplies to last for 72-96 hours post-hurricane.

Another important aspect of hurricane preparation is assigning employees to teams with specific responsibilities. “Every employee at Lee Health is either in team A or in Team B. Team A employees are physically present in the hospital during the hurricane and so that means Team A people …. would come in and usually spend anywhere from 24 to 48, maybe 72 hours in the hospital –  even sleeping in the hospital during that time frame. Employees in Team B come in after the roads are cleared or after the hurricane has passed and it is safe to come to the hospital.  Team B comes in and replaces Team A after the hurricane”, explains Mr Armitstead.

Provided that the hospital buildings are not affected by winds, rain or flooding the time when the hurricane passes over is relatively quiet but there is a surge of activity after the hurricane has passed.

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