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Even Under A Mandatory Evacuation Order, Not Everyone Was Able To Leave Before Hurricane Irma Hit

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn now to the city of Miami, where Hurricane Irma was expected to hit the city full force. Although the storm has shifted slightly, there was a mandatory evacuation order, but some people couldn't leave. One nursing home that had all 147 residents and patients shelter in place is Ponce Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. We're joined now by the facilities administrator, Desiree Sebastian. Ms. Sebastian, thank you so much for speaking with us.

DESIREE SEBASTIAN: You're welcome.

MARTIN: So describe the situation there. How are things?

SEBASTIAN: Well, considering that we are - we're, luckily, towards the end of the worst of the hurricane. We're doing well. We're doing well. Luckily, there was no storm surge. But obviously, conditions are not optimal, as we have no power. So we are running on generator. We do have generator power. So all of our critical and important life support and medical equipment and communication equipment is working. So our patients are doing well, but obviously it's not optimal conditions. Our staff is very tired. They've been working for over 24 hours. And we're doing the best we can.

MARTIN: I assume that staff members had to stay there, correct?

SEBASTIAN: Yes. We've stayed here since yesterday. Curfew was set at 7 p.m. yesterday, so staff has been here. Some staff have been here since 7 in the morning yesterday. They have not abandoned the residents and patients that are here and have been tending to them very dilligently.

MARTIN: Now I know that you've been making rounds, of course, you know, checking on people. You probably are pretty tired yourself, I would imagine. But how are the residents feeling there? I mean, do they know what's happening? I'm sure that there are probably different cognitive levels there among the residents. Do they know what's happening? And how did you prepare them? Are are people scared? Are they OK, or?

SEBASTIAN: Well, most of the residents are aware. They were a little apprehensive, a little anxiety, but the fact that they see the staff, the regular staff, the fact that we've been trying to maintain everything as normal as possible. We have activity staff here. We've had the nurses - their normal C&A's. The fact that they see that the administrative team is here, I think, has given them a sense of calm. We've just been reassuring them, making sure - checking on them, reassuring them, trying to keep them happy, you know, trying to celebrate a birthday, trying to just let them know that even though outside it's pretty stormy and things are not, you know, we don't have all the power that we normally have, that they are safe. And I think that in the beginning, there was a lot of apprehension, but I think that they are very calm now. And I think they all are quite happy that they have been well taken care of.

MARTIN: And how is the staff doing? We don't want to forget them. I'm sure that for some people, it's a sacrifice for them to stay there. How are they holding up?

SEBASTIAN: The staff is the heroes, the staff and all health care facilities. Kudos to the nurses, the C&As, the dietary, the housekeeping. They're exhausted. We've been running on shifts. Many are moms, including myself, who've left our small children at home. We don't have cell service. Many people don't have cell service or do not know how their families have fared. I think my staff is more anxious than the patients. I do have some people that are, you know, obviously - they have made big sacrifices to care for these elderly patients that we serve. And I think that they've been heroes, and not just in my facility, in all facilities.

MARTIN: Well, thank you so much for speaking with us at such a busy time for you. And I do hope when this is all over, you get a chance to get some rest...

SEBASTIAN: Thank you.

MARTIN: ...And get a well-deserved break from this hard work. So thank you so much and, of course, to your staff and all - to the families as well because they're also in it with you too.

SEBASTIAN: Yes, they are.

MARTIN: That was Desiree Sebastian. She's the facilities administrator at Ponce Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. That's in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. Ms. Sebastian, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SEBASTIAN: Thank you. Bye bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.