‘The storm was an equalizer’: Leaders share how colleagues united following Hurricane Michael

Four people standing in front of a hospital truck

Trees damaged by hurricaneHurricane Michael, which made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, on Oct. 10, is estimated to be the third most intense hurricane to strike the U.S. In response, HCA Healthcare donated $1 million to the Red Cross and immediately sent food, water, supplies, and other resources to assist its colleagues in nearby Panama City and Tallahassee, Florida. What may be more compelling than the Company’s compassion is the dedication displayed throughout the disaster by its colleagues, including those working in physician practices supporting HCA Healthcare’s Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center.

Mandy Bequette, market manager for 11 practices in HCA Healthcare Physician Services Group’s Tallahassee market, says the storm was unique. “Typically, we have a week or more to prepare; but because the storm was first forecasted as less severe, we had to shift into reactive mode quickly when it escalated on Sunday.”

“By Tuesday morning, we had stored all medications and began contacting thousands of patients to ensure they were aware of the closing and to let them know the hospital emergency room would be open if they had immediate needs,” Bequette said.

Area Practice Manager Rhonda Rabold oversees five practices, which were closest to the storm’s path. After ensuring her patients’ and colleagues’ safety, she traveled to a friend’s house in Fort Walton Beach.

“Those who stayed said it sounded like fighter jets were constantly overhead,” said Rabold. “Friends told me of walls bending, windows shaking, trees constantly crashing down in the storm. My neighbor, who served in Vietnam said it was the scariest thing he’s ever lived through.”

Following Wednesday’s storm, practices shifted to what Bequette called hurricane recovery mode. She said it was truly a collaboration of efforts. “I have one nurse practitioner whose home was damaged and everyone turned out to help her. The community really came together to help put tarps on roofs, patch holes, and cut trees that had fallen on homes.”

Outpouring of hope

Rabold spoke of the resources that came directly from the Company. “HCA Healthcare did an amazing job of taking care of us. They had emergency backpacks filled with flashlights, toiletries, scrubs, food and more. There was a fuel truck, ice, water, and even trailers with washers and dryers, where we could clean our clothes.”

The Company also made human resources representatives available to help colleagues apply for HCA Healthcare Hope Fund and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, which Rabold says she and her colleagues appreciated greatly. “We had one associate whose home was flooded and her mother needed oxygen. As soon as we heard, we got her connected to the HCA Healthcare Hope Fund. They immediately responded by providing her and her family a stay at a local hotel, where she could receive her oxygen.”

Bequette says she felt privileged to deliver gift certificates to help colleagues obtain essentials. “We have one employee who is a single mom raising seven children. She immediately started to weep when she received the gift card.”

While securing resources for their colleagues, Bequette and Rabold also focused on reopening practices to serve their patients. Rabold worked with company leaders to acquire several mobile health pods, as well as a mobile clinic from a neighboring market.

Room with small hospital bed, chairs and medical supplies

“It was a huge help for the first couple of days,” said Rabold, who shared that when the bus appeared, patients immediately began asking for care. “As soon as they saw the bus come in, they started coming. They didn’t mind the bus at all. They were so just happy to see us open and to be able to get their prescriptions.”

She added, “At one of my locations, we have folding tables, boxes in the halls, and only some exam rooms open, but our patients didn’t care. They were just 100 percent grateful they could be seen.”

Unexpected comradery

Both Bequette and Rabold shared that returning to work offered a sense of normalcy to their colleagues. Many colleagues didn’t have electricity, phones, or running water at home, so getting back to work allowed them to talk, hug, laugh, and support one another.

Working under one roof also had an unexpected outcome. According to Rabold, “This hurricane has been an equalizer; both providers and staff lost homes. We’re all going through this together and the way everyone has pulled together to care for our patients has been amazing.

Ted Johnson, group vice president of HCA Healthcare Physician Services Group (PSG), led PSG’s emergency operations command center to assist operations leaders before, during, after the category 4 storm made landfall. “I am proud to work with such an amazing group of individuals who put others first, even in the face of a crisis. From those on the front line, like Mandy and Rhonda, to those manning the command center, like Brad Jennings and Chris Samuelson, I can’t thank everyone enough for their dedication to our patients and to each other,” Johnson said.

HCA Healthcare 50th Anniversary
In 1968, HCA Healthcare was conceived by two physicians and an accomplished business leader — Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., Dr. Thomas Frist Jr., and Jack Massey. This year, HCA Healthcare celebrates its golden anniversary and the culture of caring established by our three founders 50 years ago. To help us celebrate our 50th year, we’ll share stories here that reflect HCA Healthcare’s mission – above all else, the care and improvement of human life – and our pledge to improve life and make history for the next 50 years and beyond.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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