Blizzard 2010: Behind the scenes at Beebe
Back-to-back snowstorms might have paralyzed cities across the Mid-Atlantic, but they did not interrupt the care being given to patients at Beebe Medical Center.
Hospital representatives this week reported that, during the storms, one patient had an emergency appendectomy. Two people arrived at the Emergency Department suffering from heart attacks and were quickly taken to the Cardiac Cath Lab, where the cardiac team was able to open their arteries to restore blood to their hearts. Several people suffered broken ankles and hips from falls on the ice and had surgeries to mend their bones.
As the winds drove blinding snows across local roadways, babies were being born at Beebe Medical Center. And two people were married, thanks to Beebe Medical Center Chaplain Keith Goheen, who was on duty.
“Beebe Medical Center staff members and physicians focused on their responsibilities and took care of the patients,” they said. “Ultrasound images were taken, blood drawn and meals served. Operating rooms ran unimpeded, and mothers and fathers hugged their newborn babies.
“Family members who brought sick loved ones to the hospital never guessed the meticulous planning, determination and commitment that it took to keep the hospital running normally in the face of such a storm.”
“I could not be more proud of the commitment of our team,” said Jeffrey M. Fried, president and CEO of Beebe Medical Center. “The hospital ran as smoothly and as normally as ever, and the same quality care was given to our patients, even as roads were closing and normal activities had shut down outside our doors.
“Our employees and physicians made it to the hospital in extreme weather conditions with the focus of making sure that our community received the medical care that was needed,” Fried continued. “Staff behind the scenes kept meals coming, linens clean, medical gases available and our own roads and parking lots cleared. Many people stayed for days, sleeping where they could in the hospital, knowing that they were needed.
“I could not be more proud of how our people resolved every problem, supported each other, and made sure that care for our patients remained our number one priority.”
Nurse Cheryl Littlefield, coordinator of Trauma and Emergency Management, said that, as it became evident that a dangerous storm was looming, the hospital’s Emergency Operation Plan was implemented. The plan includes close communication with state and county emergency personnel. It also includes preparations for the hospital to be self-sufficient before, during and after the storms.
“We made sure that we had our plans in place and we put them into action,” she said.
A core group of Beebe Medical Center staff and leadership met days before the first storm hit to make sure that all systems were prepared. Representatives from the pharmacy, the lab, the operating rooms, the nursing units, the emergency department, nutritional services, security, housekeeping and plant operations were among those making sure they would have everything they would need if a storm hit the area.
The fuel for back-up generator systems was checked, just in case the City of Lewes lost power. Supplies were checked and topped off. Linens were counted.
“The health of our community is our primary concern,” said Thomas Steiner, executive vice president and chief operating officer. “We had to anticipate what the community would need, and then we had to think about the effect on the entire hospital of what it would take to meet those needs.”
As the storm approached, a command center was set up at the hospital and a team representing every critical part of the hospital met and agreed to meet for briefings every three hours.
On Friday evening, Feb. 5, as the storm bore down on Lewes, messages were sent to physicians and Beebe personal using Everbridge, a mass notification system used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Everyone knew what he or she needed to do, representative said.
Making sure the hospital would be fully staffed when it was clear that roads were going to be impassable was a challenge, explained Jeannie Wallo, nurse manager of the staffing office.
Beebe Medical Center supervisors and managers figured out what staffing they would need and asked employees who could to pack bags and prepare to stay. As the two storms peaked, anywhere from 40 to 80 staff members stayed overnight, and often more than one night. Many worked extra shifts.
“At one point, it was as if we were a concierge service,” Wallo said of the staffing office. “We had to find beds for all of the staff members who stayed through the storms, and with staggered shifts, it wasn’t easy.”
The situation peaked during the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 10, as the winds howled and the local roads were buried in drifts several feet high, 105 staff members and physicians slept in beds, in cots, in reclining chairs and on inflatable mattresses around the hospital.
On that same evening, the hospital was nearly full with 143 patients. In some cases, patients ready for discharge had to stay because they could not be sent home in the storm.
“It is important to recognize the spirit of our staff,” Littlefield said.
Regina Newell, nurse manager on the orthopaedic floor, noted, “They did what they had to do.”
“It was a huge team effort,” Wallo said, also referencing the Beebe Medical Center employees and community members who had volunteered to use their personal four-wheel-drive vehicles to pick up employees who could not get to the hospital. That group also drove employees back home.
In one case, one of the drivers took an emergency-room patient who had not been admitted, and the patient’s family, and drove them home because they did not have a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Beebe Medical Center Security Manager Ron Webster coordinated the transportation effort that included matching lists of employees needing rides with those who volunteered to be drivers. Stories echoed through the hospital corridors of staff members picking up other staff members along the way or climbing through drifts of snow just so they could catch a ride.
“We can’t forget Shore Property Management,” Littlefield said. “They worked all night keeping our parking lots open so that that the ambulances, the patients and our staff could get in.”
Beebe Medical Center employees were joined by Beebe Medical Center volunteers who kept the gift shop open and the Patient Information Desk in operation. The gift shop personnel were able to respond to family members and friends who called the hospital. Volunteers at the Patient Information Desk continued to help patients and their families find their way around the hospital.
“You would never have known that we were in the middle of a disaster,” Steiner said. “We were able to give our patients the same caliber of care that we always do. The staff did just an awesome job.”