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Rooney, Caldwell, tour Lehigh Acres after Hurricane Irma

By Staff | Sep 20, 2017

U.S. Rep Francis Rooney, who had already made a stop in Cape Coral, and State Rep. Matt Caldwell visited Lehigh Acres to brief officials on what they had seen after touring the area in advance an impending visit from President Donald Trump to Southwest Florida the next day.

Rooney gave an update on the region at the Lehigh Regional Medical Center last Wednesday.

Most of the news was good.

“Cape Coral and Marco Island are in good shape. And they can focus on Lehigh, where they need to focus,” he said after flying over Lehigh earlier in the day to examine the storm’s damage himself.

In Lehigh, though, many residences and businesses were still without power Wednesday.

Power is needed to pump water from many people’s wells into their homes. Because the Caloosahatchee rose higher than was expected, some streets and canals had flooded, turning homes into islands as the waters receded.

Caldwell said the district was hit especially hard, with snapped telephone poles, which has made bringing power back to the area even more difficult and time consuming.

FEMA help is coming, Rooney said, adding he hoped Trump’s visit to Naples would result in more help.

As late as Thursday, almost all of Lee Boulevard in Lehigh Acres – one of the area’s few commercial corridors – still remained without power.

One of the few places with power was the Medical Center, which served as an important lifeline during Hurricane Irma to not only Lehigh, but to many areas to the east such as Immokalee.

And it did so despite many challenges, including having no water and needing to relocate the intensive care unit after water leaked through the roof, according to Chief Executive Officer Gary Bell.

During Irma, the Lehigh Regional Medical Center not only remained open thanks to a generator, but continued to serve its patients and even took in new ones.

Bell, a 25-year Florida resident, explained that officials knew the storm was coming and had been anticipating the worst at least 10 days before it arrived.

“We pre-ordered supplies and water, pharmaceuticals and got the house ready. The staff was divided into two teams, which lived in the building with their families and pets – including a pig – during the storm,” he said, adding that many people thought the hospital was an emergency shelter, but was not.

Despite the storm, ambulances showed up at the hospital 46 times, nearly triple the average.

Bell, who spent four straight days at the hospital, said the facility’s capabilities are actually greater during such times as all of its resources are at the hospital.

“Our surgery staff and physicians and anesthesiologists are living here and in house ready for whatever happens. We’re a little trauma center,” he said. “Our emergency room has been jammed.”

According to Bell, the hospital did face some issues, such as a lack of water to flush the toilets. Staff ended up having to use buckets of water to flush them.

He added that the hospital, fortunately, has a diesel generator with enough power to run until next month. But even that was not without issues, such as air conditioning.

“It runs on two-thirds power, which compromises our operating room with the humidity. We have to make contingency plans and make tweaks as we go along,” Bell said.

The intensive care unit was filled with patients on electrically-run machines and water running through the wall. Bell said staff had to move the unit and set it up elsewhere, which was not anything unique.

“I’m sure Lee Health had the same issues. We’re just a hospital trying to take care of 106,000 people in the area,” he said.

In the end, no patients were evacuated, no care was compromised and people got the care that they needed, Bell said. He called the actions and work by the emergency room “amazing.”