Oakhurst Center was a shelter in the storm

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Oct 9, 2017 in Rat News | Subscribe

Local nursing and rehab facility took in Naples patients; staff stayed on site

Katheryn Baggett never noticed when the Oakhurst Center nursing and rehabilitation facility in Ocala lost power during Hurricane Irma.

By the time she woke in her room Monday morning, staff already had turned on additional floor fans. The center’s two industrial generators kicked in just seconds after electrical service from the city stopped.

Baggett of course did notice the 56 new residents from her nursing facility’s sister facility in Naples. They had arrived Thursday, before the Sunday/Monday hurricane. She also noticed the nine children belonging to staff who came before the storm and stayed in the occupational therapy kitchen, and the dogs and cats and pet rats and a bird, which also belonged to staff and were brought for shelter.

Baggett, 73, who is from Winter Haven, also appreciated the dozens of Oakhurst Center staffers who weren’t scheduled to work during the storm but came in, anyway, to ensure their residents were safe.

There is concern whether nursing facilities in Florida can withstand hurricanes and the loss of electric service. The deaths of at least 14 residents at The Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills, due to heat, has become a tragic national story. Oakhurst Center in Ocala was a success story. The 160-resident facility took in the additional patients when its parent company, Genesis Healthcare, wanted to evacuate its Naples residents.

The 56 temporary residents stayed a week. Baggett didn’t mind.

“I noticed there were a lot of new people. They told us they were having people from down south,” she said. “But that’s what we’re supposed to do: help people who can’t help themselves.”

She heard the laughter of children not far from her room. She liked that they stayed the day. She moved into Oakhurst Center in August, when a wound following surgery became infected. Oakhurst treated the infection, and she will go back home in a few days.

Oakhurst Center has nearly 200 employees, the vast majority of them nurses, therapists and certified nursing assistants. The facility offers long- and short-term rehabilitation for temporary residents and nursing care to those who live there permanently.

Nearly a week before the storm, which left thousands homeless and millions without power throughout Florida, David Hunt, Oakhurst Center’s executive director, and his staff began preparing.

Hunt made the facility available to his staff and their families and pets the night of the storm.

That served two purposes.

“We wanted to make sure we were not only taking care of our patients, but also staff and their families,” Hunt said, adding later: “And it was understood we had an obligation to our patients.”

The accommodations were tight, but at least staff and patients felt they had each other and they were in it together, said Annette Lotz, Oakhurst Center’s nurse executive.

Nine children stayed in the center’s occupational therapy kitchen. The center provided movies, hot dogs, chips and frozen, flavored pops, Lotz said. The children ranged from 2 years old to teenagers.

Generators kept all of the center’s emergency equipment running, as well as ceiling fans and other amenities.

Staff slept on mattresses and sleeping bags; strategically placed floor fans helped circulate air. Two portable air conditioning units were available but never needed. Staff also arranged IV poles and strung sheets between them to create makeshift rooms for the Naples’ guests, who slept in the main dayroom.

Although Oakhurst Center lost power for 23 hours, the temperature throughout the rooms never passed 84 degrees.

The staff put pets in a room that was going to have the carpet changed, anyway, Hunt said with a laugh.

More than 100 staff stayed at the facility, many volunteering to do so to make sure their residents were taken care of. They slept where they could, using day rooms and rehab gyms as dormitories for the night.

They put trash barrels throughout the building just in case the roof leaked, because staff didn’t want the floors to get wet and endanger the residents. The barrels were never needed at facility, 1501 SE 24th Road.

Hunt plans to buy more portable air conditioners and is looking at hooking up the facility’s main central air conditioners into the generators.

Patients’ safety and comfort came first, Lotz said. And while temperatures in the low 80s might seem a little warm for some people, Lotz said the elderly, typically with thinner skin, tolerate warm a little better than younger people.

As for the deaths in Hollywood Hills, Hunt didn’t know the specifics but said, “I think there’s a level of accountability that we take for the people we care for. We know we have to take care of them.”

Federal regulations require plans for emergencies, but in many cases at other facilities it’s a plan only on paper, he said, adding “You have to make sure it’s a reality.”

It’s also important a facility has agreements with other nursing care homes to take in patients in case of emergencies. To that end, Hunt said he has agreements with twice the number just in case a natural disaster affects a large area of the state and some doors are closed to him.

While it’s a difficult decision to evacuate elderly and often frail patients, Hunt said, “you can’t wait until the last minute, personally or professionally.”

But finally, Hunt said he and his staff had one most important focus during and after the storm, “to take care of our people.”

Reach Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@starbanner.com and 352-397-5914.

 

Article source: http://www.ocala.com/news/20171009/oakhurst-center-was-shelter-in-storm

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