Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast with a vengeance on Monday and Tuesday but our patients got the care they needed because of the dedication of our people. I was the Administrator on Call, so with my colleagues from our Critical Incident Team D, and with the able support of Dan Tesch and Michele Tauson, who have overseen the creation of an emergency plan second to none, we ran the command center throughout the storm.
|Inside the Hospital Command Center during Hurricane Sandy operations.|
We went on our “Code Yellow” on Monday at 11:30 a.m. Code Yellow requires people to stay at GBMC until they are released by their supervisor. We do not take this decision lightly. I know that our staff would prefer to be with their families during a weather emergency (I was worried about a poplar falling on our house with my family inside) but it is our duty to care for and protect our patients. So, many nurses, technicians, physicians, other clinicians, housekeepers, food service workers, patient access representatives and administrative and support staff of all kinds stayed with us at GBMC and at our two Gilchrist Hospice Inpatient Units in Towson and Howard County from Monday until we lifted Code Yellow at 8:30 am on Tuesday. Since the MTA buses were shut down early on Monday and didn’t restart until Tuesday afternoon, many of our staff who normally take the bus had to find other ways to get to work. I am particularly grateful to them for their perseverance and commitment to our patients and to GBMC.
We dealt with storm related issues as they came up. Our wonderful, almost 50-year-old hospital has a flat roof and we had some leaks. The wind wreaks havoc with some areas, allowing water into cracks that are not normally there. The entrance to Unit 45 had a leak that went back into a staff locker room. We will fix these leaks when the weather permits. We were very lucky that we did not lose power. We have significantly increased our ability to generate power over the last two years but we still have a few areas, like our central sterile supply department, that are not on backup power. Since the power did not go out, this was not an issue.
We distributed cots and gave people meal tickets. I was a Boy Scout and I used to enjoy camping but I am glad that I only had to sleep on a cot for one night. Since we had power, we watched the storm reports on television. I worried about my son in New York City, as his apartment is not far from the areas where the storm surge caused flooding and the devastating damage to the subway system and the tunnels. When I heard that the power was turned off to his neighborhood to avoid a catastrophic meltdown of the power generating capability from water in the plant, I got a little more nervous. (As of the writing of this blog he is fine but the power is still off. He is getting extra exercise with the transit system still shut down!)
It was truly eerie on Tuesday morning at 7 am in the main lobby and in our main corridors. You could hear a pin drop. Usually at that hour on a weekday, there is significant hustle and bustle. Things were so quiet because for the safety of patients and staff, we had closed our outpatient clinics and services. The Emergency Department, however, was going full speed ahead. Since most physician offices were closed, anyone who could get in and needed to be seen came to the Emergency Department. As usual, our fantastic staff just did their jobs and met everyone’s needs.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Maryland’s shoreline hospitals that did not fare as well as we did and of course with people up and down the East Coast who were harmed by the storm, lost loved ones or who had devastating property damage. I grew up in New Jersey and used to go to Seaside Heights in the summer. It is so sad to see the boardwalk and so many homes destroyed. We Americans, the descendants of people who built this country often under adversity, are a resilient lot. I have no doubt that we will rebuild what has been lost.
As for the GBMC family, we showed once again that we know what our mission is and we accomplished it again. To my colleagues at GBMC, I am very grateful to you for a job well done!
Finally, a reminder that GBMC offers, free to all staff, text-based notification of emergencies / critical incidents via Code Messaging. More than 200 staff members were added to our list in the days before Hurricane Sandy. If you are not yet on the list, email your first and last name, cell phone number and provider (i.e. Sprint, AT&T, Verizon) to firstname.lastname@example.org in Emergency Management and you will be added to the system.