With Hurricane Dorian heading toward Florida, Life Care sent off three buses and a box truck this morning (Aug. 30, 2019) to assist its facilities on the peninsula.
Seven associates took off, some to drive the buses and some to keep an eye on the changing weather forecast and communicate with Life Care leaders. All of them are packed and ready for the trip.
“It’s a long trip with long hours,” said Jeff Pullin, bus driver who also works in the maintenance department as an HVAC technician.
Pullin has worked for Life Care for 12 years and has assisted with evacuations during four hurricanes, and he’s not the only one with previous experience. Most of the others on the buses have helped with hurricane preparations in Florida, South Carolina or Texas over the years. With so many facilities in these coastal areas, providing support is imperative.
The buses are loaded up with supplies, from plywood to bottled water, food to power saws. They’ve also been topped up with diesel fuel, and each one has a tank that holds 222 gallons! At the current local price of $2.34/gallon, that’s more than $519 worth of fuel, enough to get the buses to their destination and beyond, without having to refuel! Pullin shared that they always top off before fuel starts becoming scarce as stations stop refilling in advance of a storm.
The team is personally prepared as well.
“I packed clothes for five days,” Pullin shared. “I’m not sure exactly when we’ll be back. It’s tough leaving your own families, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’re going to do everything that might be needed to get our residents out of harm’s way.”
When an evacuation takes place, the bus teams help with the wheelchair lifts and load supplies on the vehicles while facility associates, who are certified to do so, escort the residents personally aboard. When everyone is ready, the drivers transport the residents and accompanying staff to a host Life Care or Century Park facility out of the danger zone.
Then, when the all clear is given, they reverse the process and transport everyone and all the equipment back to the original facility.
With all the unpredictability, there have been times that the hurricane support trips have had the bus teams sleeping on the buses.
“It’s always unique,” said Pullin. “You just have to do what you can.”
According to Beecher Hunter, Life Care president, having Life Care’s own buses and transportation/support teams is pretty unique in the long-term care field.
“Most other companies contract out,” Hunter said, explaining that Life Care bought the fleet for several reasons, including providing as much comfort as possible to the residents and making sure the vehicles were adequately equipped for the elderly with bathrooms and wheelchair lifts.
Tonight, the traveling team is planning to spend the night in Altamonte Springs in Central Florida. From there, the buses can be dispatched to whatever areas need assistance as the path of the hurricane becomes clearer.
Before the buses pulled out of the corporate offices, Life Care senior leadership gathered to say a special prayer for safety for the traveling teams and the residents and associates who may be affected by Dorian.
“We want to make sure that everyone’s going to be safe,” said JD Hawkins, maintenance assistant and one of the traveling associates.
Life Care’s corporate clinical leaders will also be assisting facility teams.