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Ike hospital evacuees come to Statesboro
East Georgia Regional to care for 16 patients from Florida Keys hospitals
Imported Photos 00235
Emergency medical service ambulances from Chatham County line up Sunday afternoon outside East Georgia Regional Medical Center after transporting patients from Hunter Army Air Field. Sixteen patients from Florida hospitals in Key West and Marathon were evacuated to East Georgia Regional ahead of Hurricane Ike, which is threatening the Florida Keys. - photo by Special

Hurricane Ike may be churning 700 miles south of Statesboro, but East Georgia Regional Medical Center already is helping safeguard potential victims of the monster storm. Sixteen patients from two hospitals in the Florida Keys were evacuated Sunday to East Georgia Regional ahead of Ike, which struck eastern Cuba late Sunday.

“We’re happy to be able to lend a hand,” said Bob Bigley, CEO of East Georgia. “It’s unusual for us to admit 16 patients in a half-hour period, but it’s not unusual for us to admit 30 patients in a day. We believe we can give the patients the care and services they need.”

Bigley said all 16 patients are in stable condition, with some recovering from surgical procedures. The patients were evacuated from the Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West and Fishermen’s Hospital in Marathon, about 40 miles north of Key West. The two Florida hospitals are owned by Health Management Associates, which also owns East Georgia Regional.

“Our company looked for sister hospitals who could handle the extra patients and who could also provide the level and quality of care required,” Bigley said. “We said we had the beds and could meet the service requirements.”

Bigley said the Florida National Guard flew the 16 patients to Hunter Army Air Field in a C-130 transport plane to Savannah, where they were met by six EMS ambulances from Chatham County and two ambulances from Bulloch County. Two patients rode in each ambulance and they arrived at East Georgia early Sunday afternoon.

Dr. Andrew Cichelli, who heads the hospitalist program at East Georgia, was notified of the incoming patients, Bigly said. Additional staff was called in and key physicians also were advised of the extra patients.

Bigley said the patients would stay in Statesboro until it is safe for them to return to their hospitals in the Keys. That may be soon. Ike is projected to track through eastern and central Cuba and emerge into the Gulf of Mexico sometime Wednesday. If the hurricane follows that path, Key West and the rest of the Keys should receive only a glancing blow.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been part of an evacuation of patients caused by a hurricane,” Bigley said. “I’m glad we can help.”