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An infant in MUSC's neonatal intensive care unit was transferred to the Upstate in advance of Hurricane Florence. Typically, hospitals in evacuation zones request to "shelter in place" to avoid moving the sickest patients and risking lives. File/Staff

Hospitals that transferred nearly 400 patients out of South Carolina's evacuation zone last week will likely bear significant costs associated with that decision. 

Patients who were moved won't face higher bills, said Schipp Ames, a spokesman for the S.C. Hospital Association, but the evacuated hospitals will grapple with unexpected costs and lost revenue, which may lead to overall higher health care costs.

"Hospitals are able to receive some compensation from insurance policies, but much of these costs are absorbed by the health system and can lead to higher costs," Ames said. "Hospitals can also apply to FEMA for federal assistance, but those requests are rarely fulfilled and not enough to cover the full value of a major patient evacuation."

When the North Shore Long Island–Jewish Health System evacuated almost 1,000 patients during Hurricane Irene in 2011, the system estimated it cost $13 million between additional labor and supplies and lost revenue. The hospital system received $2.5 million from its "property casualty and business interruption insurance policy," according to a Health Affairs report. In 2012, it sought additional reimbursement through FEMA. 

Meanwhile, the Medical University of South Carolina is still waiting to receive federal reimbursement related to Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. 

MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said one infant from the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit was transferred to Spartanburg before Hurricane Florence made landfall. That patient was covered by the military's Tricare insurance program, which agreed to pay for the transfer costs. 

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North of Charleston, approximately 100 patients from Tidelands Health in Georgetown and 300 patients from Grand Strand Medical Center were moved in advance of the storm. 

The hospital association could not verify if the hospital evacuations last week were the largest in state history, but Ames said it marked the first evacuation in Tidelands Health's 70-year history. MUSC confirmed it has never fully evacuated its facility. 

Typically, hospitals request permission to "shelter in place" to avoid risking the lives of their sickest patients. 

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598. 

Lauren Sausser is the Features Editor at The Post and Courier. She also covers health care issues in South Carolina.

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