Hurricane Ian impacts health care access across Florida

Hurricane Ian has impacted health care facilities across Florida, making it very difficult for medically vulnerable people to get the care they need. Tom Carter is the president and executive director of Health Care Ready, a nonprofit that coordinates public, private and government responses to disasters. He joined William Brangham to discuss the needs of hurricane victims.

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  • William Brangham:

    Hurricane Ian has also impacted health care facilities across the state, making it very difficult for medically vulnerable people to get the care they need.

    For more on that, I'm joined by Tom Cotter. He's the president and executive director of Healthcare Ready, which is a nonprofit that coordinates public, private and government responses to disasters.

    He joins me from just outside a shelter in Fort Myers.

    Tom Cotter, thank you so much for being here.

    I know that there is a lot of need amongst a lot of different people in Florida right now. But on the health care side that you particularly focus on, can you give us a sense of what you're hearing from people? What are the most acute needs right now?

    Tom Cotter, President and Executive Director, Healthcare Ready: Well, right now, people are either in shelters or trying to rebuild their homes.

    And, as in all disasters, the people with hypertension still have hypertension. The people who go to dialysis still need to go to dialysis. And making sure that that supply chain and that access to health care is available to the people who need it most is our number one objective right now. And that's all complicated by the impact of Hurricane Ian and on the regular infrastructure around here, power and water.

  • William Brangham:

    So what is it that — is it that those people can't get to the facilities because the roads are impassable, or those facilities themselves were damaged? Where is the hangup?

  • Tom Cotter:

    Well, right now, all of the health care facilities, all of the pharmacies, dialysis centers are all working very hard to open back up.

    But it's really tough if you don't have grid electricity, and you need to run a generator. You need to have fuel for that. It needs to not break down. And so there's a lot there. The roads and infrastructure for travel are relatively OK, give or take. But the biggest challenge right now is just having these companies that are trying to get back up and running and provide a service.

    It's tough without any support from the grid or from the water. It's doubly so for hospitals and other clinics, because they rely on enormous quantities of water to provide health care services.

  • William Brangham:

    And so, with regards to what your organization does, what kinds of help are you providing while you're there?

  • Tom Cotter:

    Well, right now, we're talking to private sector businesses that are working to get up and running, getting them what they need in terms of generators, other supplies.

    Even staffing is an issue, because the people in this area that work at CVS, that work at Walgreens, that provide nursing care, they were all impacted by the storm too, so trying to meet all of the needs of that to get this infrastructure back up and running, in addition to that, working with all of the NGOs in the area Heart to Heart International, Project HOPE, Americares, to make sure we're matching needs to resources as they become available, so really tackling this from every angle.

  • William Brangham:

    And do you have a sense of when some of those issues will start to be resolved?

  • Tom Cotter:

    They're being resolved very quickly in the surrounding areas of Lee County.

    Right now, I drove through Naples, Florida, where I was pretty shocked to see pharmacies open. Gas availability looked good. But in the hardest-hit places, that's where we're very concerned, places — Pine Island, Sanibel Island.

    There's people out there who need health care and are either still there or have become recently homeless. And that is a challenge unto itself to figure out how we can provide some stability as an entity for their health and well-being.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Tom Cotter of Healthcare ready, thank you so much for being here.

    And good luck with your work down there.

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