Providing Life-Sustaining Care and Support in Wake of Hurricanes Florence and Michael

Share this page
Local staff volunteers provide dialysis care after Hurricane Florence.
After Hurricane Florence, local staff volunteers with Regional Vice President Strait Gaston (top left), who transported them from less-impacted areas to the more-impacted clinics for assistance.

Within weeks, two massive hurricanes ravaged parts of Florida, the Carolinas and surrounding areas, breaking weather records. As the nation’s second wettest storm of the last 70 years, Hurricane Florence brought massive flooding and high winds on Sept. 14, leaving destruction in its path across the Carolinas. Weeks later, Hurricane Michael followed on Oct. 16, flattening buildings and knocking out all utilities in Panama City, Fla.

In both instances, after many days of preparation and hard work, a team of clinicians and rescue workers from Fresenius Medical Care North America accounted for all dialysis patients in the impacted areas just a few days after the storms made landfall. This included finding and rescuing patients from their homes, sometimes cutting back fallen trees with chainsaws or crossing flooded roadways with highwater vehicles.

“When the number of unaccounted patients hit zero, that was the first time I could step back and take note of what this team had accomplished,” said David Wells, Regional Vice President of Fresenius Medical Care North America for the Eastern North Carolina Region. “We made it through without the loss of any employees or patients and that’s what matters most.”

Fresenius Kidney Care disaster response team during Hurricane Michael.
Fresenius Medical Care emergency vehicles and personnel respond in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

Before major storm events, the company contacts all dialysis patients in the hurricane warning area, scheduling the life-sustaining treatments that will help patients stay healthy while waiting out the storm. Fresenius Kidney Care dialysis centers stay open late – sometimes until hours before the storm — providing last minute treatments and care. Staff also support the evacuation of patients, helping them find safe shelter before storms strike.

“It requires a dedicated team of people that are committed to putting the needs of others ahead of their own to respond to an event like this,” said Wells. “They show that we not only deliver on our mission on a typical day, but on our most difficult days as well.”


WKRG News captured the preparation in Mobile, Ala. before Hurricane Florence.

A key part of the Fresenius Medical Care North America response includes support for impacted employees. This ensures that employees can continue their mission of providing quality care, even during the most difficult circumstances, Wells said. Within 24 hours of each major storm, a caravan of highwater vehicles, generators, water and gas trucks, and other supplies made its way from a nearby staging site to the impact zone, setting up a local command center.

Director of Operations Scott Riddell led the caravan into Panama City after Hurricane Michael touched down. He recalled the commitment and dedication of the local care team, almost 90 percent of whom lost their homes during the storm that ravaged Panama City.

“What they did was nothing short of heroic,” Riddell said. “This care team absolutely delivered on our mission. They stayed to work at our Fresenius Kidney Care facility, driving through horrific conditions to get to work and treat their patients.”

Panama City Clinic Manager Kathy Shonk drove part of the way to her clinic the day after Hurricane Michael struck, parking her vehicle and continuing on foot when downed trees and powerlines became too much to navigate.

“There, in the middle of this devastation, stood our clinic strong and intact,” Shonk said. “Our patients have always been loved and well cared for on a clinic level, now they feel that love and caring from a company level. The patients that we provided treatment for from other non-Fresenius clinics have felt that love and care as well.”

RESOURCES:

Disaster Relief Fact Sheet

Prepare and Act: A Comprehensive Program for Disaster Management by Kate Dobbs & Norma Ofsthun, PhD.

Hurricane Season: Maintaining Dialysis Service During Disasters