Durham County

Hurricane Florence sends VA patients from Hampton, Virginia, to Durham

A busload of 15 veterans evacuated from Virginia ahead of Hurricane Florence was welcomed to the Durham VA Medical Center on Wednesday.

The Durham hospital already was undertaking its own hurricane preparations when the new patients arrived. They were transferred inland from the Hampton VA Medical Center, which is in a mandatory evacuation zone after a state of emergency was declared in Virginia.

“We’re part of a network that works together to ensure the safety of our veterans,” said Durham VA Medical Center Director Paul Crews. “We took some patients in here. Some went to hospitals in Maryland, and other went to facilities in Virginia. We thought the storm was going to go a little more north, which would have put the hospital in Hampton in danger.”

“It’s quite an effort to move 200 patients and close down a hospital, he said.

There is plenty of room in Durham for the transferred patients, who made the three-hour trip by bus, Crews said. Their stay in Durham should only be two or three days once the storm has passed.

Meanwhile, Crews also was overseeing other preparations, including the shutdown of clinics in Morehead City and Greenville. Crews said those facilities do not provide in-patient care, but they do manage the care of veterans in the eastern part of the state. There are about 700 veterans who are considered highly vulnerable patients, he said.

The Morehead City clinic was completely evacuated because it is right on the coast, while the larger operation in Greenville, which is about 90 miles inland, has been closed. Crews said staff in Greenville would be checking in on patients by phone during the next few days.

“We’re monitoring what’s going on the weather and keeping in contact with our vulnerable patients,” Crews said. “We’re making sure that we have the supplies and that we are ready if there is a need.”

Crews said there are about 500 patients who need oxygen. There also are a number of patients with spinal cord injuries and limited mobility who have been identified for additional monitoring, Crews said.

“We made a lot of contacts with those folks,” Crews said. “We’ve reached out to them to make sure they have enough oxygen to get them through the storm. And we’re working with the vendors across the state to make sure that they had all the supplies that they needed.”

Earlier this week, workers filled and placed sandbags to protect flood-prone areas around the hospital.

Crews said the hospital has enough supplies to operate for almost three weeks.

“We have all the resources that needed to maintain operations for 18 days,” Crews said. “We’ve also made sure our infrastructure is secure. We’ve ensured everything is secure and we’ve tried to minimize any damage secondary from rain and wind.”

The VA has several 24-hour hotline numbers for veterans and their caregivers to use in emergencies and natural disasters.

Veteran Hurricane Hotline Number: 1-800-507-4571

Employee Disaster Hotline Number: 1-866-233-0152

VBA Hotline Number: 1-800-827-1000

Pharmacy Customer Care 1- 866-400-1243