Memorial Health evacuated over 50 babies ahead of Irma

Memorial Health evacuated over 50 babies ahead of Irma

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - More than 50 babies are back in Memorial's NIC-U unit after having to be evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma.

The evacuation plan put into practice hadn't been executed in nearly 20 years. Even then, they had less than half as many babies.

We spoke with a mother as well as the doctor who made the evacuation decision. They say everything went smoothly, but traffic did prove to be a major headache. Obviously, these babies need a lot of medical attention, so getting them from one hospital to the next quickly was the most important thing.

Renee Gunter is back in Memorial's NICU unit for the second time with her second child. The first time was with her now-four-year-old son and this time with her daughter who was born 14 weeks premature. She's definitely happy to be back.

"I consider Savannah and this NICU home, so yes, it's nice to be home."

Her daughter, Quinn, is one of 55 babies the hospital evacuated last week. Renee remembers getting the initial news about an evacuation.

"You have the nerves of just having your child in the NICU and yeah, when they come up and say there's a possible chance that this hospital may no longer be safe, you definitely have a lot of nerves."

Quinn went to Macon. Others went to Augusta, Columbus, and Atlanta. They did it all in 28 hours.

"We could not have done that without the extreme dedication of our neonatal transport team, our ambulance drivers. We flew a lot of those babies in helicopters. We flew about 15 or 16 babies in helicopters to those locations."

Dr. Buckler at Pediatrix Medical Group of Georgia says Traffic on Interstate 16 and other roads in the state did present a little bit of a problem.

"What usually takes four to six hours, was taking 8-12 hours, and that why we ended up flying a lot of these babies to different institutions."

Doctors and nurses practice this evacuation plan every year, even when there is no threat to the hospital. Their policy calls for the evacuation when a storm is Category 3 or stronger. They also have to leave 24 to 36 hours before the mandatory evacuation order for residents.

Dr. Buckler isn't second-guessing his decision even though Irma's path changed.

"I feel like if we made the decision any sooner, it would've been a little premature, but if we had waited any longer, it would've definitely been too late. When we made the decision, it was the right decision, and if I had to make the decision again today, I would make the same decision."

For parents like Gunter, it could not have been smoother.

"Impressed is probably the best word I can come up with and amazed that the second a decision was made, the staff came and told us."

Renee does hope the next three months are much less eventful.

"To move 55 babies in 28 hours is really unprecedented. The only other time we transported out of this institution was back in 1998. At that point in time, we only had to transport about 20 babies," said Dr. Buckler.

Dr. Buckler says the hospital staff here in Savannah and at the other hospitals these babies went to really made the evacuation go smoothly. All of the babies are back at Memorial now.

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