Radiology department feels Andrew's force

September 3, 1992

Javier Hernandez-Lichtl realized that running a hospital radiologydepartment during a natural disaster would be no picnic afterHurricane Andrew stripped the roof from one of his MRI rooms. Fortunately for Hernandez, Baptist Hospital's two MR

Javier Hernandez-Lichtl realized that running a hospital radiologydepartment during a natural disaster would be no picnic afterHurricane Andrew stripped the roof from one of his MRI rooms.

Fortunately for Hernandez, Baptist Hospital's two MR scannerswere among the facility's least-used medical imaging devices asthe hospital absorbed a surge of accident victims in the hoursand days after the hurricane slammed into southern Florida lastmonth.

Hernandez was one of many health-care professionals who madeextraordinary efforts to provide medical attention to victimsof the disaster. Many continued to work around the clock despitehaving lost their own homes and possessions to the storm.

Baptist Hospital, where Hernandez is head of imaging services,is located on Kendall Drive in Miami, just north of the evacuationzone in southern Dade County. It was one of the few hospitalsin the area that was able to stay open throughout the hurricane,and bore much of the patient load in the storm's aftermath.

Advanced planning was key to coping with the surge of injuredthrough power outages and water cutoffs, according to Hernandez.On the night before the hurricane all the hospital's employeeswere asked to report for work, as many roads would be impassablethe next day due to flooding and storm damage. Provisions werealso made for child and maternity care.

When the storm hit during the early morning hours of Aug. 24,the radiology department was one of the safest places in the hospitalbecause of its central location in the building. But even there,the storm's fury was evident.

"The noises were incredible," Hernandez said. "Thenoises from flying objects, from the wind--and I was very protected.The change in air pressure was lifting the ceiling tiles. It wasalmost like a poltergeist movie."

Once the storm subsided, Baptist was flooded with hurricanevictims. Because most of the patients arriving at the hospital'semergency room needed some kind of radiology procedure, Hernandezand his colleagues went into overdrive.

"I would have to guess that we did about 500 proceduresa day," Hernandez said. "We normally do about 100 proceduresa day."

X-ray was the most frequently used modality, as many patientshad broken bones caused by flying debris. CT scans were also commonfor patients with head trauma, and those with multiple traumarequired body CT. Baptist's MR scanners were little-used, andas a precaution were ramped down before the storm--this preventedserious problems when Andrew tore the roof off one of the MR rooms.

"The last thing I'd want to know is that the magnet ispulling every metal flying object into the room," Hernandezsaid. "Thank God we ramped down both units and didn't haveany problems."

In order to cope with the high demand for certain radiologyprocedures, many radiology technologists crossed over into otherspecialties. MR and mammography technologists who had experiencein general diagnostic radiology were reassigned to x-ray.

Some employees were at the hospital for as long as three days,and many had problems of their own to confront when their longshifts finally ended. Hernandez estimated that Hurricane Andrewdestroyed the homes of almost half of the hospital's staff.

Getting back to normal proved to be a tall order. The hospitalhad to run on generator power for several days, and was withoutwater service as well. With the exception of Baptist's landscaping,however, damage to the hospital was minimal.

The storm also put a crimp in the operations of medical imagingcompanies in the area. Catheter maker Cordis is located in MiamiLakes, about 40 miles from the path of the storm. The firm lostpower and telephone service, and at one point had marketing staffshipping orders by flashlight, according to Chick McDowell, vicepresident of corporate relations.

"We lost some production, we lost some time, but overallwe came out of it extremely well," McDowell said.

Calm is slowing returning to Baptist Hospital. The hospitalhas set up a relief fund for employees affected by the hurricane,and donations of money and supplies have been pouring in fromhospitals across the country.

As for Baptist's MR room, a temporary roof has been installedand the scanner has been serviced, but it operates in fits andstarts, according to Hernandez.

"We've been able to get the unit working and then it failsagain. We had some damage to the computer, and there are somerusty spots on the table itself," Hernandez said. "Luckilywe have another magnet. It's always good to have two magnets."