Tampa General Hospital didn’t miss a beat when Hurricane Idalia passed through the Tampa Bay area, despite rumors circulating on social media that the storm flooded the facility and cut off power.
While torrents of water did flood many other buildings in the region, TGH deployed its “AquaFence.” The water-impermeable barrier, which TGH purchased five years ago, takes about 48 hours to set up and can hold back seven feet of storm surge.
TGH sits about eight feet above sea level at its lowest point — the emergency room is 25 feet above sea level — so with the barrier up, the Level 1 Trauma Center is prepped for as much as 15 feet of surge.
TGH Security Director Tony Venezia told Florida Politics that the hospital easily withstood everything Idalia threw at it: “We could have taken an additional five feet of surge if we needed to.”
Venezia’s comments come after a photo of a flooded parking garage on the TGH campus went semi-viral, leading some area residents to believe that TGH had shut its doors or lost electricity during the worst of it.
The photo was of Bayshore Pavilion, which sits between the Davis Islands access bridge and the seawall. It is prone to flooding by design, Venezia said, and it was operating as intended.
“It’s designed so you know, it has storm drains there. When the surge comes up like it did today, both storm drains can’t drain so the water pools there until the water goes down. But there’s no water there right now because it has all drained out. And that’s purposeful, based on how we built that structure,” he said.
Venezia added that TGH was also not at risk of losing power during the storm because the facility has a backup power source — the Central Energy Plant — that sits 33 feet above sea level and is built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Idalia peaked as a Category 4 storm when it made landfall in the Big Bend region, which is far north of Tampa Bay.
“You got to have water and you got to have power, right? All of that stuff is now protected and everything worked flawlessly,” Venezia said. “We never flickered power. The team members and the patients — if they hadn’t gone outside and didn’t know there was a storm going on, they would have never known the difference.”
In a post-storm news release, TGH confirmed it is open and operating at 100%, assuring area residents that it is accepting new patients and that the freestanding emergency centers that are part of the TGH network will reopen at 7:00 p.m. today. Tampa General will be operating “business as usual” — meaning the resumption of patient appointments, procedures and elective surgeries — on Thursday.
“The state depends on Tampa General to deliver world-class care, and we are committed to deliver on that expectation while keeping our patients, physicians and team members safe from harm. That’s why we have strengthened our infrastructure to withstand severe weather, prepared and practiced emergency management, and brought in additional supplies to support our teams and patients through severe weather conditions,” Tampa General President and CEO John Couris said in a prepared statement.
“I am grateful to all the physicians and team members who remained on-site through the hurricane, and for the exceptional care they continued to provide here while their families sheltered safely at home or away. Because of these efforts, patients at Tampa General are safe, and we are preparing to care for Floridians in the hardest hit communities.”