The central gulf coast is a popular destination for diving enthusiasts, with its clear waters and diverse marine life. However, the lack of healthcare facilities for diving injuries such as decompression illness (the bends) in this area is a major concern.
Diving accidents can happen to even the most experienced divers, and prompt medical attention is crucial in such cases. Unfortunately, the central gulf coast has very limited options when it comes to healthcare facilities that are equipped to handle diving injuries such as decompression illness (the bends). The current options are Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, AL or Adventist Florida in Orlando.
Watch this short clip below where a diver shares his completely unexpected mishap with DCI and Recovery in a Hyperbaric Chamber
Current State of Healthcare Facilities
The central gulf coast has only a handful of hospitals and clinics that are equipped to handle diving injuries such as the bends. Even these facilities may not have specialized equipment or trained staff to deal with such emergencies.
Moreover, the distance between these healthcare facilities and popular diving spots can be significant, which can result in delays in getting medical attention. This can be especially dangerous in cases of decompression sickness, where time is of the essence.
There are currently no treating facilities from Pensacola, Florida to Jacksonville, Florida. Mercy Medical Center in Miami just recently was not providing services for diving injuries due to an unexpected and extremely sad loss of their medical director. The Mercy Medical normally treats approximately 100 diving injuries annually. Where are these divers going to be treated?
Impact on Diving Tourism
The lack of adequate healthcare facilities for diving injuries can have a significant impact on diving tourism in the central gulf coast. Divers may be hesitant to visit the area if they feel that their safety is at risk due to the lack of proper medical facilities.
This can have a ripple effect on the local economy, as diving tourism is a major source of revenue for many businesses in the area. It is therefore important for the local authorities to take steps to address this issue and ensure that divers feel safe and secure while visiting the central gulf coast.
Scuba diving tourism is an important contributor to the Florida economy, particularly in coastal areas where diving is a popular recreational activity. According to a 2016 report by the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA), scuba diving activities in Florida generated an estimated $2.3 billion in direct expenditures in 2015. This includes spending on equipment, travel, accommodations, and related activities.
Overall, scuba diving is an important contributor to the Florida economy and plays an important role in supporting local businesses and communities.
Here is a list of some of the popular dive destinations on the Panhandle:
USS Oriskany (Pensacola, FL)
Black Bart Wreck (Panama City Beach, FL)
Southwind Wreck (Pensacola Beach, FL)
Antares Wreck (Navarre Beach, FL)
Empire Mica Wreck (Destin, FL)
Spiegel Grove (Key Largo, FL)
Morrison Springs (Ponce de Leon, FL)
Vortex Springs (Ponce de Leon, FL)
The Springs (Marianna, FL)
Three Rivers State Park (Sneads, FL)
Tugboat Wreck (Panama City Beach, FL)
Pete Tide II (Panama City Beach, FL)
Destin Jetties (Destin, FL)
Bob Sikes Bridge (Pensacola, FL)
Grey Ghost (Panama City Beach, FL)
USS Accokeek (Panama City Beach, FL)
Saint Andrew State Park Jetties (Panama City Beach, FL)
Yankee Sabre Wreck (Pensacola Beach, FL)
USS Massachusetts (Pensacola, FL)
USS Strength (Pensacola, FL)
Impact of Diving on Florida state employees
In addition to direct spending, scuba diving tourism also generates indirect economic benefits through job creation and other economic activities. According to the same report, scuba diving in Florida supported an estimated 11,000 jobs in 2015, including both direct jobs in the diving industry and indirect jobs in related sectors such as hospitality and transportation.
Also there are a large number of state employees who jobs require SCUBA diving activities such as:
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC): The FWC employs a team of biologists and researchers who conduct underwater surveys and research on fish and wildlife populations in Florida waters.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP): The DEP employs divers who monitor and maintain underwater habitats and conduct research on environmental issues in Florida waters.
Florida State University (FSU): The FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory employs scientists and graduate students who conduct research on marine ecosystems and coastal habitats in Florida.
University of Florida (UF): The UF Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience employs scientists and graduate students who conduct research on marine organisms and ecosystems in Florida and other regions.
It’s worth noting that not all scientific divers in Florida may be employed directly by the state or by these specific organizations, as there may be private research firms or non-profit organizations that also employ scientific divers. Additionally, the number of scientific divers employed by these organizations may vary over time, depending on funding, research needs, and other factors.
One possible solution to the lack of healthcare facilities for diving injuries on the central gulf coast is to establish specialized dive medical centers in strategic locations. These centers would be staffed by trained professionals and equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to handle diving emergencies such as teh bends.
Another solution is to provide training to healthcare professionals in the area so that they are better equipped to handle diving injuries. This would involve specialized courses and certifications that focus on dive medicine and emergency response.
Lastly, funding by private industry and public funding sources to the existing facilities so further facilities do not lose services. In this author’s opinion, we have reached a tipping point which can impact the entire scuba diving industry and further as related to the advancement in space tourism and industry applications. Time will tell but the danger to the public is real.
The lack of healthcare facilities for diving injuries on the central gulf coast is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. It not only puts divers at risk but also has a negative impact on the local economy.
By establishing specialized dive medical centers and providing training to healthcare professionals, the local authorities can ensure that divers feel safe and secure while visiting the area. This will not only boost diving tourism but also enhance the overall well-being of the community.
2. ‘Diving Accidents and Decompression Illness.’ Merck Manual, https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/injuries-and-poisoning/diving-accidents-and-decompression-illness/diving-accidents-and-decompression-illness.
The severity of this problem is highlighted below in the following Abstract for the 2023 Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society Annual Meeting.
· On the central Gulf Coast are some of the most beautiful beaches, game fish and shipwreck trails for the SCUBA diver in the US to enjoy. There are thousands of diving excursions into the Emerald Coast that are enjoyed by many without incident. However, those that do experience an incident of DCI (decompression illness – or the bends) can expect prolonged delay of transfer times to a facility providing hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the diving injury.
MATERIALS AND METHODS:
· A retrospective medical record review on the DCI cases treated in the facilities of Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, AL and Adventist Florida located in Orlando.
· The parameters were the registration times into the medical system from hospital A to registration time at the accepting facility.
· The cases were identified for each facility as follows for the year 2022.
Springhill Medical Center treated 20 cases of DCI
8 of the 20 cases (40%) took 12 hrs or greater for transport to the treating facility.
An additional 3 cases took greater than 11 hrs for transport to the treating facility.
11 of the 20 cases (55%) took greater than 11 hrs for transport to the treating facility.
16 of the 20 cases (80%) took 6 hrs or greater for transport to the treating facility.
Adventist Florida treated 12 cases of DCI
5 of the 11 cases (45.5%) took 12 hrs or greater for transport to the treating facility.
7 of the 11 cases (63%) took 6 hrs or greater for transport to the treating facility.
SCUBA diving is a relative safe sport. As a recreational diver, one would expect the healthcare system to be able to provide care for the DCI injury as in any other injury, although it is related to SCUBA diving. Sadly, this is not the case with less than 70 recompression facilities in the US willing to treat the diving injuries such as the bends. An injured diver can expect prolonged transfer times and transport to a location that may not be close to their point of origin.
Contributors and Authors: Robin Ortega CHRNC, Julio Garcia ACHRN
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