ST. CROIX — A critical difference between Irma and Maria was evident almost immediately Wednesday afternoon.
At Luis Hospital, nurses in scrubs streamed in and out of the emergency room doors and parking lot, and doctors walked briskly from room to room.
The lights and air conditioning were on.
Acting administrator Tim Lessing said Wednesday after the massive and powerful hurricane hit St. Croix that the building had taken on some water, but medical treatment had continued through the storm uninterrupted.
The hospital’s emergency room was fully operating, and the hospital staff had treated a series of minor cuts and abrasions.
However, Luis Hospital did not escape the storm unscathed and it sustained damage to its roof and flooding.
Health Commissioner Michelle Davis said the hospital is monitoring that to determine whether additional actions need to be taken.
“We had some membrane issues with the roofing,” Lessing said. “We had quite a bit of water.”
The water required moving patients within the hospital from the third floor to the second floor, but all patients were safe — and no patients were evacuated, Lessing said.
Otherwise, Luis’ outlook looks promising, according to Lessing.
“Right now, we’re probably a few hours away from getting hemodialysis up and running,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
Hemodialysis is a treatment administered to patients who suffer the loss of function in both kidneys. The patients are required to undergo blood filtration periodically, otherwise toxins in their bloods build up to life-threatening labels.
While the hospital was able to provide hemodialysis, that didn’t mean that those patients wouldn’t be affected by the storm, Lessing said.
“Our plan is we’ll be up and ready for them when they come in the morning,” he said. “I don’t know how they’re gonna get here. About 70 percent of them come via VITRAN, and if they can’t transport them, I don’t have vehicles to go get them.”
The biggest issue facing the hospital is that Hurricane Maria had cut off Luis from the rest of the island, according to Lessing.
“I think our biggest issue right now is communications,” he said. “We are dead to the world. We cannot communicate with the police, VITEMA, FEMA, anyone.”
Even radio signals aren’t able to get out, Lessing said Wednesday afternoon.
“Even when we stop the police, we ask them, and they have no communications,” he said. “We’re in the dark, completely. Everything that we’re trying to do and work on, we’re doing internally.”
In addition, motivating a workforce hammered by a second major storm in as many weeks has proved challenging, Lessing said.
“Their minds are on their families, and you can’t argue with that,” he said.
The hospital did so well, that eight people from a trailer park across the street evacuated their damaged homes to take up shelter at Luis, Lessing said.
“We housed them for the night, and gave ‘em snacks and got them all settled,” he said. “All in all, we’re blessed. We are blessed.”