As reports circulated that Hurricane Dorian was bearing down on the Bahamas, Christopher Scott, M.D., CPE, FACEP, Senior Vice President, Envision Healthcare, WFD Alliance Group, understood the challenge facing the island nation and its people.
A native of Jamaica, Dr. Scott immigrated to the United States as a child. Although he received his medical training stateside and is based in Orlando, Florida, Dr. Scott remains connected to both his homeland and the Caribbean, maintaining a medical license and participating in service trips throughout the Caribbean’s nations.
“When a storm hits Florida, the people here can pack and drive to Alabama or Georgia to escape, but that’s not possible when you’re living on those islands,” Scott said. “In the Bahamas, their people had to be there as the storm touched land, which was going to leave them with nowhere to turn and nowhere to go.”
On September 1, 2019, Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas’ Abaco Islands as a Category 5 hurricane – the highest category reserved for the strongest storms. Dorian devastated the island for 24 hours before advancing to Grand Bahamas Island, where its 185 mph winds destroyed houses and pushed 20-plus-foot walls of water onto the island.
The storm advanced past the island nation two days later, causing unimaginable harm to the Bahamas and earning its name as one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record. The damage is estimated at more than $7 billion, while the cost to human life is far worse, with more than 60 deaths and thousands more reported missing by the government.
Envision’s Lisa Lauro, MSN, CRNA, who practices at Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, also understood the Bahamas’ plight.
“I’ve visited the Bahamas many times – I’ve been scuba diving there. I keep in contact with many people I’ve met during my visits, and I felt like I needed to help those people,” Lauro said.
Unable to quickly reach the island, Lauro first helped relief efforts stateside. Working with a team of clinicians from Memorial Hospital, Lauro rented a truck and loaded it with donated clothing and goods. Dr. Scott said he heard that same call, as he aligned with colleagues tied to the Caribbean and sought to explore how they could help the relief efforts.
“I have a group of friends in Orlando who all have Caribbean origins, and we knew we had to do something,” Dr. Scott said.
He spent four days in the Bahamas working at Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport. Since the hospital had sustained significant damage, Dr. Scott and his fellow physicians worked outside of the building in pop-up tents.
“Rand’s building had 5 feet of water, so the physicians there were forced to provide care in tents that were set up on the property,” Dr. Scott said. “What I don’t think some people realize is that these doctors were also victims of the storms. While they were caring for patients, they were also dealing with the loss of their homes and their belongings.
“Our job there was to give those doctors relief. We worked in 12-hour shifts, providing whatever assistance we could, while they treated patients and tried to piece their own lives back together.”
Making the nearly 300-mile drive to West Palm Beach, Florida, Lauro joined team members of the Bahamas Relief Cruise on a trip to the island. Upon her September 27 arrival in Freeport, she said that the Grand Bahamas’ main city had started to recover. What she saw as she ventured to the island’s east end – its most devastated section – was far more difficult to process.
“What I saw there was pretty much total devastation,” Lauro said. “It was the first weekend some people there were able to return to their homes, and they were just doing their best to try to pick up the pieces.”
Alongside members of Peace River K9 Search and Rescue, a Florida-based non-profit organization, and the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Lauro aided in the search for human remains. Lauro also assisted survivors, providing patient care and helping to begin the process of creating a medical clinic to which she and other volunteers can return in the coming months.
“Providing care has definitely been a collaborative effort. We’re all diving back into our general care experience here, but thanks to technology, we have been able to consult digitally with our colleagues around the island and beyond on how to best treat some of the people we’re seeing.”
The islands of Grand Bahamas and Abaco are home to nearly 70,000 people, many of whom have not yet begun the process of putting their lives back together. Dr. Scott noted that because of their remote location, the recovery process will take time.
“Because this is an island nation, trucks are not going to drive in from neighboring states or countries with aid. The airports are also devastated, so they have to rely on boats to come in with food, drinkable water and other supplies,” Dr. Scott said.
Lauro said she plans to return as often as possible to assist in the recovery efforts, but until she can, she will continue to work with Envision colleagues in collecting donated supplies.