Skip to Content

Bay Pines VA, Sunshine Network, and FDVA Unite to Care for Veterans During Hurricane Idalia

Photo of EMS evacuation of Veteran
EMS personnel support evacuation operations for Veterans of the Bay Pines VA Community Living Center, prior to the arrival of Hurricane Idalia. Coordination ensured the safe transfer of 146 Veterans in less than 24 hours.

For the second time in 11 months, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System activated emergency operations to prepare for the potential impact and aftermath of a hurricane headed for the western coast of Florida.

“Hurricanes definitely present challenges for us because our catchment encompasses so much of the western coastline of Florida,” said Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Associate Director and Incident Commander Sean N. Turner. “However, much like the Veterans we serve, when moments count, we rise to meet the challenge every time.”

Success is rarely achieved alone, and that holds true for Bay Pines VA.

In the days preceding Hurricane Idalia’s landfall, nursing leadership from across the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network worked to set the conditions for the coordination of care of patients and residents from C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center to other VA locations across the state.

“You won’t find a more dedicated group of professionals than the nursing corps across VISN 8,” said Bay Pines VA Chief Nurse for Operations Sonya Arnold. “This was an immense effort, with no room for error, and we all take pride in knowing that when we’re needed, nurses will always be there to answer the call.”

In the span of 24 hours, 146 Veterans were evacuated to Orlando, West Palm Beach, North Florida/South Georgia, and Tampa VA Medical Centers.

“There’s no VISN in the country who gets hit harder with severe weather than we do,” offered VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8) Director David B. Isaacks during a call to VISN 8 leaders Tuesday evening. “But you’re always ready, and you never waiver, which reflects the highest levels of resiliency and commitment that Veterans expect when they entrust VA with their healthcare.”

Partnerships become increasingly critical during times of emergencies. Thanks to the support from FDVA, 16 Veterans from the Community Living Center were admitted to the FDVA’s State Veteran Nursing Home in Orlando, with the staff support from Bay Pines VA.

“FDVA is an amazing organization, and the past few days established a new precedent between two organizations who are solely focused on the care and well-being of Florida’s Veterans,” said Bay Pines VA Director/CEO Paul M. Russo. “We’re grateful to FDVA Director Hartsell for reaching out to us, and we look forward to exploring the possibilities that may exist for increased partnership during emergency situations in the future.”  

Significant assistance was also provided by Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which provided Sunstar Emergency Management Services (EMS) to support numerous ambulance transports.

“Our ability to safety and efficiently evacuate 146 Veterans from C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center to facilities across the state – and return them back – would not have been possible without Pinellas County EOC and Sunstar,” said Bay Pines VA Deputy Director Kris Brown. “Their selfless service, professionalism, and partnership are greatly appreciated in supporting this critical need.”

Ensuring the safety and well-being of Veterans in the community was also a top priority for Bay Pines VA who tested their readiness during a simulated hurricane training exercise in early June, in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season.

“Twice, in the span of 72 hours, our team completed pre- and post-storm outreach efforts for nearly 4,000 vulnerable Veterans living throughout our catchment,” said Bay Pines VA Social Work Chief Alisha Stanton. “Our ability to connect with them before and after major events like Hurricane Idalia provides reassurance to them and their families that when they need us, we’re here to help.”

Bay Pines VA leaders are in the process of coordinating for the return of Veterans back to the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center Campus and offering their appreciation for the coordinated efforts to everyone who stepped forward over the past week.

“I believe that none of us is as good as all of us, and this past week validates that,” said Russo. “From the coordination and partnership throughout VISN 8 to our partnership with FDVA, we remain, as we always have been, an interwoven network of professionals who will always rise to the challenge to ensure the care, safety, and well-being of our nation’s heroes.” 

See all stories