Ten months ago, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded battered the Bahamas. With peak winds at 185-mph, Hurricane Dorian made landfall on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019 and damaged structures, took hundreds of lives, erased entire neighbors and left survivors traumatized.
Amid the chaos, a handful of HCA Healthcare Heroes spread light in a dark moment by providing critical medical aid.
With the Bahamas often being considered the back yard of Florida, the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s Grand Celebration cruise ship became a lifeline – delivering supplies and volunteers to the devastated area.
When the call went out for volunteers, physicians, nurses and other colleagues from affiliate Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida packed their cars with supplies donated from the hospital and drove to the cruise ship’s port in West Palm Beach. They boarded the ship as part of the Bahamas Relief Cruise without hesitation.
Caring for others is at the heart of everything we do as an organization. “We are all individually, and as an organization, really great about being involved and jumping into whatever we think is going to help the community,” said Allie Biess, ICU nurse at Memorial Hospital Jacksonville.
“If you see someone hurting, and you can do anything, I just don’t know why you wouldn’t,” Allie adds.
The cruise ship was transformed into a makeshift hospital, and Dr. David Siebert, a hospitalist at Memorial Hospital Jacksonville, and his team were assigned the role to set up a ‘home triage’ hospital on the ship.
Once the ship had docked in the Bahamas, medical relief teams were sent on land to deliver roughly 225,000 pounds of medical equipment along with other supplies to the city of Freeport.
Dr. Frederick Jenkins, emergency department medical director at Memorial Hospital Jacksonville, asked to drive around the island going door to door to see what help was needed most. It became evident that dehydration and treating patients with chronic issues who had lost everything, including medication, were the highest priorities.
The makeshift medical bar in the cruise ship quickly saw an influx of survivors from the island needing medical treatment. Diabetics lacked insulin. Those with high-blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias and stroke issues were without medication. Skin issues, including fungal rashes, were on the rise as a result of no running water.
In addition to the medical treatment given, Dr. Michael Baptista, bariatric surgeon at Memorial Hospital Jacksonville explained that the relief efforts delivered so much more.
“I think the thing we brought the most for the people there was hope,” said Dr. Baptista. “We gave them hope that someone cares about them. We gave them hope that the help will continue.”
“We were absolutely carrying out the mission of HCA Healthcare by doing this – to provide wonderful care to the people in the community, and obviously in this case the community extended a lot further out,” said Dr. Jenkins.
He continued, “To help people directly like this that were so devastated, is just tremendous. I mean we do that every day in the emergency department, but this was kind of on a different level and in a totally different context – so it was really rewarding to do it. I would encourage anybody who has the opportunity to do the same thing.”
Serving as the medical director for the Bahamas Relief Cruise, nurse Brittany Reidy was determined to continue helping in the most ravaged areas. After the Bahamas Relief Cruise completed its maiden voyage, the relief mission made additional trips, under Brittany’s medical leadership, to continue serving those in need. Brittany – who specializes in critical care trauma and emergency services – serves patients at HCA Healthcare sister facility, Palms West Hospital, in Loxahatchee, Fla.