Hurricane Season 2017 Begins

This past Sunday set the all time record for the hottest day in May ever in Miami at a scorching 98 degrees.  That same day we were recruiting one of the best surgeons in the country, visiting from Cleveland, Ohio to join our Baptist Health Medical Group.  He was here to show his wife Miami as a potential new home.  I was thinking that this heat was so intense that they are going to say no thanks, too hot for us.  But guess what, they loved the heat! They were thinking about the long cold winters of the Midwest, and said this 98 feels great to us.  I think they are going to come.  Goodbye Cleveland, hello sunshine!

The weather has always been one of our great attractions.  The warmth, the water, the palm trees in the breeze are part of paradise. Paradise also comes with a few challenges.  The one that we think about every year on this particular day is Hurricane Season.  So our preparation begins today, Day One.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that forever changed our lives and landscape, causing destruction and devastation to our community and later shaping how we prepare for hurricanes and other emergencies today. Whether you were one of the millions of residents who experienced hurricane Andrew first hand or heard the stories through the years, it’s safe to say we don’t ever want to go through a storm like that again…..and definitely not unprepared.

At Baptist Health, we train and plan year round for emergencies, preparing for the worst and hoping will never happen. Every drill provides us with the chance to refresh, refine and reinforce our protocols for crisis scenarios, which go beyond storms to include the outbreak of diseases like Zika and man-made disasters such as bioterrorism.  Our annual Emergency Preparedness Exercise puts us to a rigorous test that activates our Incident Command System checking our communication capabilities, physical security, surge capacity, family reunification, and more.

A lot has changed in the past 25 years. Our plans are more extensive, our communication technology is more sophisticated and our buildings are vastly more secure. Our teamwork, however, remains unchanged and unrivaled.  You are very simply the best in the business. I’m not saying that lightly. Our performance during our drills each year is evaluated real time by a national disaster consultant who says we are the best he’s ever seen at emergency preparation. During Hurricane Andrew and countless other situations including mission trips to Haiti, storm relief to St. Kitts and Nevis, and other places in dire need, I have personally witnessed how crisis brings out the best in people . Staff came to work in the aftermath of a vicious storm, despite their personal losses and they took care of patients. They help their neighbors and strangers alike. If we ever had to face another natural disaster, this community has Baptist Health’s support to care for those who need it most.

Experience has taught us no matter how active or inactive the hurricane season is forecast to be, the exact outcome cannot be certain. You can never be entirely ready for the unexpected, but there are some basic tips and questions to consider to help you get a jumpstart on your personal hurricane preparation plans:

Get Informed

Are you in an evacuation area? Do you have a place to go if you need to evacuate? Where will you keep your pets?

 Create a Hurricane Kit

Do you have flashlights and batteries for everyone? Is your first aid kit complete, and does it include sun block and mosquito repellant? Have you made copies of your important documents?

Communicate and Over-communicate

Do you have a family emergency communication plan? Have you rehearsed it? How will you connect if phones are not working?

Prepare Your Home

Have you made a list of the items you’ll need to stockpile, like food, water and medications? Are your trees in need of trimming? How will you secure outdoor furniture?

There is no shortage of information and resources available to assist with hurricane planning. The important thing is to have some type of plan, and to make preparations in advance, while things are “calm” in the tropics.  You personal preparation is the foundation of your professional work readiness.  That combination makes you a highly valued expert care giver who is ready to perform at the highest level under extreme conditions.  Directly or indirectly, every single one of us is a care giver.

For more information visit

Here at work, directly or indirectly caring for patients, we clearly understand the implications that our disaster response will have on our patient care and the communities that we serve. Today is the day to reflect on this serious obligation we each take on as part of our mission at Baptist Health. Make sure you understand your departments hurricane plans and your role in those plans.  We will communicate regularly as necessary through all normal channels, including my hurricane preparedness blog

On behalf of our President Brian Keeley and our Chairman William Dickinson, I thank you for your service to our patients, your readiness for every hazard, and your commitment to caring for our community, and each other.

Update on potential for storm development and the Zika virus

As you know, this blog serves as a vehicle for communications on all crises and other topics that may be of concern to our community. Today, there are two situations that we’re monitoring, and that are important for us to stay aware of. The first is a storm system with a chance of developing into something of concern for us in South Florida; and the second is the Zika virus.

Invest 99-L

A tropical disturbance churning in the Caribbean could pose a threat to Florida. The National Hurricane Center says the system has a medium to high chance of development into a tropical depression or tropical storm over the next two to five days. Today, forecasters reduced the percent chance that it would develop over the next five days to 70 percent- down from yesterday’s 80 percent.  The Miami Herald reports that Florida is likely to feel some effects from the storm, though it is still too early to tell what those might be.

As always, we’ll watch this storm and keep you up to date on the very latest news. We will make a decision in the coming days as to whether we’ll need to activate our incident command center, but now is a good time to make sure you know what your plan for a storm would be – both at work and at home.  If you’re unsure about your department’s protocol, please speak with your manager. Personally, please review your plan for yourself and your family – where will you go if a storm hits? Do you have necessary supplies? What preparations will you make? The National Hurricane Center’s hurricane preparedness website is a great place to go to help you start to answer some of those important questions.


The number of non-travel-related cases of the Zika virus continues to grow in our state. This week, state health officials announced the first non-travel-related case of the virus outside of South Florida.  The new case was found in Pinellas County, which includes St. Petersburg, near Tampa. The health department is investigating this case, as well as several others, but officials still believe ongoing active transmission is taking place only within the identified areas of Wynwood and Miami Beach. The latest numbers, out today, show 534 travel-related cases of Zika in the state, 43 non-travel-related cases and 70 cases involving pregnant women.

At this time, we continue to be on a level 3 activation, which means we are closely monitoring the situation and responding accordingly. We’re in constant communication with our local health department, physician leaders, infection control staff and other experts to ensure that we have the latest information and appropriate response and resources for our patients.

Dr. Lillian Rivera, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, has told us that the most important message to get out to the community continues to be that of prevention. Each person doing his or her part to prevent mosquito bites and eliminate standing water can go a long way in stopping the spread of the virus. Here are more prevention tips from the CDC.

Thank you,


Zika Update #5

With the news this afternoon of two new cases of Zika in Miami Beach, the number of non-travel-related cases of the Zika virus continues to tick upward. As of yesterday, there were 33 such cases in the state, as well as 461 travel-related cases and 63 cases involving pregnant women.

As a healthcare organization, we’re working to ensure that we are providing our patients and community with adequate resources and information. This week, our community health team hosted a seminar on Zika at South Miami Hospital. A special thanks goes to Jorge Perez, M.D., Rafael Perez, M.D., and Tomas Villanueva, D.O., for taking part in the panel and to our community health team for organizing the event. More than 100 people were there to hear from our experts and ask questions. It was also a great opportunity to reach our community through the media. The Miami Herald, WLRN, Telemundo and Univision covered the event.

Per the governor’s direction earlier this month, all county health departments are now offering free Zika risk assessment and testing to pregnant women. At Baptist Health, we are conducting testing through the health department at our outpatient hospital labs as well as at several of our diagnostic imaging centers. The list of locations and testing information can be found at Patients are required to have a physician’s prescription as well as completed health department forms in order to be tested for Zika at a Baptist Health facility. Patients who are not pregnant must also have pre-approval from the health department.

As the situation evolves, I want to stress the importance of prevention. We are in a unique and critical position to encourage our patients and our community to take precautions in order to prevent a wider spread of the virus. While the virus is of most concern to women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, those who do not fall in that category should be encouraged to protect our pregnant community by taking precautions themselves. Each of us, when not protected, provides an opportunity for mosquito vectors to transmit the virus.

The CDC has great information on prevention. I encourage you to take a moment to read through it and ensure that you’re doing everything possible to protect yourself and your community. As Baptist Health South Florida employees, we are often looked to by friends and family for advice and expertise on any issue affecting the health of our community ­– including this one. That’s a good thing, and even if we aren’t experts in every area, we usually have access to the information. Here are the links to two simple handouts from the CDC with an overview and prevention information that I think will be useful to you when you get questions about Zika. You can print them out or forward them electronically (I texted them to my sons, who don’t know what paper is). Having 15,000 people pushing out facts to the community has a big impact.

Thank you,


Zika Update #4

Dear Colleagues:

As you know, the Zika virus and its implications for South Florida continue to be an important topic of conversation for our community and for us as healthcare providers. The situation is changing rapidly, and we’re following it and making appropriate changes to our response and to our plans along the way. We remain at a level 3 activation, which means we’re closely monitoring the situation and are responding accordingly.

As of today, there are 406 cases of the Zika virus in the state of Florida. Fifteen of those cases involve local transmission in Miami-Dade County. The Florida Department of Health still believes that local transmission is only taking place within the identified one-square-mile area that includes Wynwood, north of downtown Miami.

Earlier this week, Florida’s governor instructed the health department to request a CDC Emergency Response Team. That team is now here in South Florida helping the health department with its investigation, outreach and mosquito control efforts.

At Baptist Health, we’ve assembled a Zika task force that includes physician leaders within our system, private practice physicians (including local OB physicians), entity leaders, infection control professionals and others to ensure that our response plan is well-rounded and well communicated. The expertise of these individuals has been extremely valuable as we prepare to respond to the needs of our community under various scenarios. With extensive media coverage of the Zika issue, Baptist Health’s experts have also been front and center in national and local media interviews, including the Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Boston Globe, NPR, Univision and the Miami Herald. Special thanks to Jorge Perez, M.D., Rafael Perez, M.D., Ellen Schwartzbard, M.D., and Jack Ziffer, Ph.D., M.D. for lending their expertise to the task force and for numerous media stories. Our nursing staff and leaders across the organization – and especially in labor and delivery, the labs, emergency rooms and urgent care centers – have been performing at their usual exceptional level during these special circumstances, and I thank them now, and will many times to come, as we help our patients and community work through this.

One of our priorities is community education. While patients with symptoms should always seek appropriate treatment, it is important for people with no symptoms who may be concerned about the virus to talk with their physician. Whether it’s a primary care physician or an obstetrician, it is important for concerned individuals to speak with their doctor. The doctor can then determine, along with the health department, whether the patient meets the testing criteria and can help manage the patient’s follow-up care.

We’ve added the latest information about the Zika virus to our website, as well as our employee Intranet to keep everyone up to date. We’ll continue to update both as the situation changes.


Monitoring Local Transmission of the Zika Virus

This morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott confirmed that it is likely that Zika virus is actively being transmitted by local mosquitoes.  The Florida Department of Health gathered enough information as part of its ongoing investigation into non-travel related cases of the virus in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to conclude that a high likelihood exists that four cases are the result of local transmission. Two of those cases are in Miami-Dade, and two are in Broward.  The health department believes that active transmission is occurring in one area in Miami-Dade County, just north of downtown.  They’re working to test neighbors and increase mosquito control in the impacted area, and continue prevention efforts around South Florida.

At this time, Baptist Health is operating at a level 3 activation (our lowest level of alert), which means we’re monitoring and assessing the event and collaborating with health officials.  Our Emergency Preparedness and Security Department ― partnered with our Infection Control experts – is working closely with the local health department, which also links us to those at the state and federal levels.

As of yesterday, 383 cases of the Zika Virus have been confirmed in Florida.

Our blood provider resumed blood collection today, after being temporarily asked to suspend collections yesterday.  The provider currently tests all donors for the Zika virus.

As you are probably aware, many patients with Zika have few or mild symptoms that may include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. Yet there can be some serious consequences of the disease. Babies born to mothers who are infected while pregnant are at risk of microencephaly, a birth defect that causes abnormally small heads and a number of health concerns. In addition, a few patients have also suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder often accompanied by temporary paralysis. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika and no specific treatment for the illness. Patients are advised to rest, stay hydrated and take acetaminophen to reduce fever.

When patients come in to our facilities and meet the testing criteria, our infection control practitioners work quickly to receive approval for testing through the health department. Urine and blood tests that detect the virus are available, and results take several days to obtain. All positive results are reported as required to the county health department.

John Braden, M.D., our medical director for emergency preparedness, reports: “The number of cases continues to trickle in mostly being seen in the urgent care setting. We continue to closely follow any new developments through our health department contacts.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant postpone travel to areas with widespread Zika infection. Florida’s small case cluster is not considered widespread transmission. According to CDC guidance, providers should consider testing all pregnant women with a history of travel to a Zika-affected area. CDC recommends that a pregnant woman with a history of Zika virus and her provider should consider additional ultrasounds.

In addition, the Florida Department of Health suggests the following:

•   Remove any standing water from small pools, bird baths, fountains, buckets or other containers that are outside around your home. Mosquitoes breed in these waters.
•   Apply mosquito repellent and cover exposed skin, particularly when outdoors during times mosquitoes are most active.
•    In Miami-Dade County, call 3-1-1 to report mosquito infestations in your neighborhood. In Broward County, call 954-765-4062. In Monroe County, go to
•    Consider postponing travel to countries where Zika is present.
•    Good sites for Zika information and background are:, which gives the daily report from the Department of Health and Florida also operates a Zika Virus Information Hotline at 1-855-622-6735.

If you have questions about Zika that relate to the workplace or your care of patients, talk to a member of the Infection Control or Emergency Preparedness staff. Watch for updates in your entity newsletters and on Baptist Health’s blogs at

As always, we’ll continue to keep you updated as this develops.