PANAMA CITY — "Significant damage" from Hurricane Michael, combined with associated concerns about the reliability of water, sewer and electrical service in the wake of the storm, prompted Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center to evacuate patients to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, according to Thursday announcements from the Panama City hospital.
Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center began Thursday to evacuate its approximately 130 patients, beginning with the most critically ill patients, to sister hospitals like Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. Both hospitals are part of the HCA Healthcare network of nearly 180 hospitals.
"Until we can be certain of stable public power, water and sewage systems our patients will be safest in one of our sister hospitals in a neighboring community that was not as severely impacted by the hurricane," the hospital noted on its website.
Meanwhile, helicopters were ferrying patients from Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center and Bay Medical Sacred Heart, another Panama City hospital, into Fort Walton Beach, where ambulances were transferring them to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center.
A total of 30 helicopter flights into Fort Walton Beach were expected Thursday, according to staff at White-Wilson Medical Center, located adjacent to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. The White-Wilson Medical Center parking lot was serving as a landing zone for the helicopters.
Helicopters also were landing on the helipad at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, at the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds on Lewis Turner Boulevard and at the Ron Crawford Recreational Center on Hospital Drive.
Among the patients being ferried from Panama City were three trauma cases, according to White-Wilson staff members.
In a Thursday news release, Fort Walton Beach Medical Center officials said the hospital had "currently received and will continue to receive numerous patients transferred in from Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center." Additionally according to the release, the hospital is expecting to treat people rescued from the Bay County area in the wake of the hurricane.
“We will do everything possible to support those in Panama City and the impacted areas with the healthcare they need,” Mitch Mongell, CEO of Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, said in the news release.
Even as Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center was evacuating its inpatients, the facility was working to keep its emergency room open to serve the needs of its hurricane-ravaged community.
A Disaster Medical Assistance Team, provided through the federal National Disaster Medical System, a program of the Department of Health & Human Services, is providing emergency care at Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center.
"We know our community will need our ER and we are going to do everything possible to keep our ER open to effectively treat and stabilize patients," Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center said on its website.
Alicia Adams contributed to this report.