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08/25/2005 ~ While Keys Energy Services (KEYS) customers were promptly energized in the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis, it is very likely that future restoration efforts will be hampered by the mandatory closure of hospitals in the Florida Keys.

In advance of Hurricane Dennis, Lower Keys Medical Center (LKMC) closed at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, July 8th. KEYS considered pulling crews in at this time, however, the City of Key West committed its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Fisherman’s Hospital remained opened since the mandatory evacuation did not extend past the Seven-Mile Bridge. Such safeguards allowed KEYS crews to work immediately before and after the storm*.

After Hurricane Dennis, approximately 50 percent of KEYS customers were re-energized on the evening of Saturday, July 9th. Without the safeguards of the City’s EMS and Fisherman’s Hospital to respond to any injuries incurred by KEYS’ crew members during the restoration process, KEYS customers would not have been re-energized until the hospital reopened. Electrical restoration would have been delayed at least 24 hours.

KEYS is in serious talks, as are other governmental organizations, with LKMC and the State of Florida to determine what steps can be taken to ensure that community welfare and employee safety are not mutually exclusive. Initial meetings with the hospital on a local level have demonstrated that they are willing to assist the needs of the community; however, the decision to close the hospital is being made at a state level.

State officials have indicated that hospitals must close whenever a mandatory evacuation order is issued, or risk losing their licenses. KEYS, along with other governmental organizations, has looked into privately contracting emergency medical services similar to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit, however, the cost of medical malpractice insurance far outweighs the benefit.

KEYS will continue to explore all possible options to ensure that the energy needs of the community and the safety of restoration workers are equally met. In the interim, KEYS urges its customers to contact their state representatives to help ensure that the unique geography and needs of the Florida Keys are known to all in Tallahassee.

* - KEYS crews are automatically recalled from the field once sustained winds reach 35 miles-per-hour (MPH). At this time it is no longer safe to utilize the large booms on KEYS’ Bucket Trucks, nor expose the high profile vehicles to storm-force winds.

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