‘I was grateful she would be safe’: First NICU baby evacuated from Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center

Baby in hospital blanket

Patient safety is always top of mind for Lindsey Bruce. It’s her job as a regulatory compliance coordinator at HCA Healthcare affiliate Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City, Florida. And as the threat of Hurricane Michael loomed on the Florida Panhandle, Bruce didn’t hesitate to allow the transfer of her one-day-old, premature daughter to a sister hospital outside of the area for her safety.

“I was grateful she would be safe,” said Bruce, who is also a certified advanced registered nurse practitioner. “I knew that Dr. (Tony) Pena, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) medical director at Gulf Coast Regional, would not put any of the babies in jeopardy.”

Bruce’s daughter, Charlie Kate, was the very first NICU baby transferred to HCA Healthcare’s North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville, Fla., three days before Hurricane Michael made landfall. Prior to the storm, a total of eight preemies were moved from Gulf Coast Regional to North Florida Regional to ensure uninterrupted care.

“I felt very confident during the evacuation,” Bruce said. “The medical flight team came to the NICU, placed her into their transport equipment and my husband was able to fly with her to Gainesville. That also gave me comfort because he was able to update me throughout the transport.”

Weighing 3 pounds, 13 ounces, baby Charlie Kate, the only patient on the plane, was transported with a NICU nurse, a respiratory therapist and a flight paramedic.

Team of caregivers transporting baby in incubator down hospital hallway

Bruce, who was discharged from the hospital 12 hours before the storm, remained in Panama City with her other children, a three-and-a-half-year-old, an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old.

“It was scarier than I expected it to be,” the Chattahoochee, Florida native said. “The wind noise was amazing. I don’t even know what else to say about it. I can tell you this, I will not stay in a house again if we are expecting a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.”

Her family’s home escaped the storm with roof and water damage – like many of the homes in the area – and, the day after Hurricane Michael, Bruce packed up her car, with her children and pets in tow, to make the normally four-hour drive to Gainesville. Due to impassable roads, the trip took them roughly eight hours.

She reunited with Charlie Kate on Friday and was pleased to learn that six nurses from Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, where Charlie was born, volunteered to travel to sister facility North Florida Regional to help care for “their” babies.

Group of four women

“It was nice to personally know the nurses that were taking care of my daughter,” Bruce said. “The fact that they sacrificed being with their own families to come to Gainesville to care for their patients was truly remarkable.”

“The care team at North Florida Regional have been absolutely phenomenal, as well,” she added. “They took care of my husband and baby before I ever got here, and they’ve loved on all of us ever since. It’s been amazing.”

Two female nurses

Even though she’s hundreds of miles away, Bruce is still thinking of her work family at Gulf Coast Regional, which sustained substantial damage during Hurricane Michael and was forced post-storm to evacuate more than 300 patients.

“We have a group text message about the recovery and relief efforts happening at home,” she said, “and the hospital administration team has been doing an excellent job of updating everyone about what’s going on and what to expect in the days to come.”

If she were in Panama City, Bruce contends that she’d be with her co-workers, cleaning up or assisting the community anywhere she could. But for now, she’s just grateful for her colleagues at Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, which is still treating the community through its emergency department.

“I appreciate what they’re doing so that I can be here doing what Charlie Kate needs me to do right now,” she said. “The most important thing is that my baby is safe, our family is safe, and everybody is taken care of.”

Mom and dad with newborn baby in hospital

HCA Healthcare affiliates North Florida Regional Medical Center received eight patients – all babies – from Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center before Hurricane Michael.

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