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Hurricane Ian: One Year Later, Clinics are Key to Recovery

  • September 20, 2023
  • Community Health, Emergency Programs, Hurricane
  • Florida, United States

“They were there for us. I would be in the hospital without them.”

Jo, a retired nurse

September 28, 2022: “I looked down the street and saw this big black thing coming — it was literally a wall of water,” says Jo, a retired nurse who lives in Cape Coral, Florida.

Minutes later, the filthy storm surge from Hurricane Ian swept into her home, swirling around her ankles, and Jo ran through the flood to safety at her neighbor’s elevated house. And that was just the beginning: For months after the storm, Jo lived in her damp and damaged home, without power or clean water. A year later, she lives in a trailer while she slowly rebuilds.

Woman with her black dog standing in front of a partially covered wooden wardrobe with two boxes of debris in background and evidence of damage along the baseboards.
Jo stands inside her home in Cape Coral, Florida near tarp-covered furniture and boxes of remaining debris. She is unable to live in her home nearly one year after Hurricane Ian due to the damage it sustained. Renovations are in progress, and she hopes to finish moving back in soon. (Photo/Mike Demas).

One light in Jo’s life: Samaritan Health and Wellness Center. “They were there for us,” she says. “I would be in the hospital without them.” Like many survivors, Jo suffered infections from the dirty environment after the storm and sought care. Samaritan Health and Wellness was badly damaged but, with emergency funds from Americares, was able to treat patients and operate fully in a temporary location while its landlord made repairs.  

Hurricane Ian delivered a massive blow to central Florida communities, killing nearly 150 people and leaving damage estimated at $100 billion. 

Samaritan Health and Wellness was just one of 16 Florida partners Americares has supported in the year after Hurricane Ian: In all, Americares has provided more than $1.5 million in aid. The emergency funds allowed clinics to stay open and meet the health needs of thousands of hurricane survivors living with low incomes. Americares also provided local clinic partners with enough medicine to fill more than 1,100 prescriptions, including tetanus vaccine, chronic disease medicine and the antibiotics that helped Jo.

Americares mental health experts also provided surge support, filling in for and providing direct care to health workers besieged by storm damage. “They gave me a tremendous amount of strength in the midst of something that I wasn’t sure I had strength for,” says Gina Wynn, assistant vice president of community services at Charlotte Behavioral Health Care, a not-for-profit provider based in Charlotte County.

Health worker in blue embraces patient in exam room.
Sometimes being comforted is the best medicine.

Because of Americares support, Samaritan Health and Wellness was able to open satellite locations, including one in Pine Island, a remote community cut off from the mainland during the storm.  “We have families still living in tents,” says Erin Lollar-Lambert, executive director of the Greater Pine Island Alliance, which coordinates aid. “Having Samaritan Health and Wellness here at the center of the island is so crucial to help us rebuild both the mental and physical health of our communities.”

For many survivors, recovery is slow. Some, like Jo, had hurricane insurance, but not flood insurance; other families still wait for insurance payments. For partners, Americares support was a lifeline. “Without Americares, we would not have been able to open,” says Suzanne Roberts, CEO, Virginia B. Andes Volunteer Community Clinic in Port Charlotte, which received emergency funding from Americares after the clinic roof failed during the storm. “We are doing well. But our patients aren’t that fortunate. They are still living with tarps on their roof or in tents, waiting to get some type of relief. It’s a slow process. In the meantime, we have to be open for our patients and never closed for our patients.”

“Repairs are coming slowly, as I can afford them,” says Jo. “We are still struggling.”

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