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Hurricane Irene Sets Hospitals Scrambling to Prepare

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media, August 26, 2011

As Hurricane Irene churns up the Atlantic Coast threatening communities from North Carolina to New England, hospitals in the storm's path are working to finalize their plans for keeping their facilities safe and operational.

The Category 3 storm is expected to dump as much as 15 inches of rain in some areas.

Federal and state regulations require hospitals to have disaster plans in place. And small community hospitals and large urban health systems approach emergency planning in much the same way: they secure the facility, order supplies, get staff in place, and wait out the storm.

As of Thursday, here's how some hospitals were bracing for Irene:

University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, Greenville, NC

The eight-hospital system has checked it blood supply to make sure it can go at least three days without a delivery. It is also moving its emergency response helicopters to an inland location. Beth Atkins, a spokesperson for the system, said all employees are on standby and every department in its hospitals has been asked to look at staffing needs through the weekend and into Wednesday of next week.

All gas meds, such as oxygen, will be topped off on Friday. And the pharmacy has stocked up and can run seven days without deliveries.

Albemarle Hospital, Elizabeth City, NC

Located just an hour from the Outer Banks, where the eye of Hurricane Irene is expected Saturday evening, Albemarle Hospital is the only hospital in a 45 mile radius and plays an important role in its community. Unlike hospitals in more urban areas, the 140-bed rural facility is often a gathering place for the community when a disaster hits.

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