At 11:45 pm on Wednesday, September 12, the team at HCA Healthcare’s Grand Strand Medical Center safely evacuated its last patient in advance of Hurricane Florence’s anticipated arrival late today.

Grand Strand caregivers after successfully transferring the last patient.

“When you dedicate your life to keeping people safe and healthy, it is difficult to evacuate your hospital,” said Dr. Jon Pangia, System Medical Director of Hospital Services & Emergency Medicine for Grand Strand Health. “However, with the required medical evacuation of the hospital, we simply had no choice. So we turned our focus to evacuating our patients as safely and smoothly as possible.”

Dr. Pangia addressed the hospital evacuation and response to the hurricane by phone on CNN’s Headline News here

More than 320 patients were evacuated between Monday afternoon and late Wednesday to more than 32 facilities in South Carolina and across the Southeast, including nine HCA Healthcare hospitals across the Southeast.

Now, as the impact of Hurricane Florence is starting to be felt, Eric Ault is lying comfortably in a hospital bed in Jacksonville, Fla, 363 miles away from his hometown of Myrtle Beach.  Ault was admitted to Grand Strand Medical Center for a GI bleed on Friday night just as weather forecasts were showing Florence headed to the Carolinas.

A few days after being admitted to the hospital, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered mandatory medical evacuations. In compliance with his medical evacuation order and for the safety of patients and staff, Grand Strand Medical Center evacuated all of its patients.  Ault was one of them.

“It was really an interesting spectacle to watch an entire hospital get evacuated,” he said. “I could hear staff members pre-planning.  It was very close to a military exercise, seeing busses from different counties and jurisdictions showing up, a team of people loading patients up and evacuating these people.  It was clearly well organized.”

Ault was taken in an ambulance to the airport and then was flown in a medical transport jet to Jacksonville.  Once he landed, he was taken to Memorial Hospital where caregivers were ready and anticipating his arrival.

“Everyone greeted me like an old family member because they knew I was coming,” he said. “The whole spirit, everybody along the way seemed to have a great attitude and worked well together.  It was really impressive.”

Ault, a prostate cancer survivor, says he is now undergoing testing at Memorial Hospital to see why he’s having pain and if he’ll need surgery.  If so, he’ll remain in Jacksonville and will continue to be cared for by the nurses and caregivers at Memorial Hospital.

Ault’s wife and daughter, who happen to be nurses at Grand Strand Medical Center, remain in South Carolina on standby to help with reopening the hospital as quickly as possible after the storm passes.  Ault’s son and his pets are there as well, riding out the storm together.

“I’ve been through a few hurricanes, I know what they’re like in that area.  Clearly, I would much prefer to be with my wife, my two kids, my pets and my friends,” he said.  “It is a little anxiety-inducing to know there is absolutely nothing that I can do from here.”

While Ault can’t control his circumstances, he says he can stay positive and hope for the best for his loved ones, his home and his community in Myrtle Beach.

In the meantime, he’s focused on getting better and giving thanks to everyone at Grand Strand Medical Center, Memorial Hospital and those across HCA Healthcare who helped to coordinate his care.

“Evacuating an entire hospital in the face of a hurricane is a tremendous task and I can’t imagine how much planning and thought and coordination had to go into it,” he said. “Throughout the entire thing I did not see a single person frustrated or complaining about having to work during the storm.  Everyone had such a great attitude toward it and clearly were trying to take care of the patients first.”

HCA Coliseum Northside team prepare to greet and receive transferred patients.

HCA 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 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’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.