Friday, September 2, 2011

Our Team Comes Together When Hurricane Irene Strikes

In times of trouble it’s amazing how people are able to put aside their problems and “step up to the plate.”  And in times of trouble, people look to GBMC HealthCare and other healthcare providers even more than they would in other times.

As you can imagine, preparations for hurricanes are fairly complex for healthcare organizations.  Although we drill, practice, train and plan for various types of crisis situations, there are still a lot of "moving parts" that need to be considered. 

Such was the situation last weekend, continuing into this week, as Baltimore was hit with Hurricane Irene’s damaging wind and rain.  Roads were flooded, trees came crashing down and power lines were snapped, but our healthcare system  forged on, never stopping to provide quality healthcare for our community.

We’re very fortunate to have people like Dan Tesch, Michelle Tauson and Donny Dietez – our Emergency Management Department and leaders of the hospital’s Critical Incident Committee – who have created and organized the organization’s response to significant incidents like hurricanes. Critical Incident Team C was on-call for this storm, and led our staff in overcoming challenges and adversity to manage patient care in a safe and caring environment.

Carolyn Candiello, normally our Vice President of Quality and Patient Safety, served as the Incident Commander since it was her turn as senior executive on call. Carolyn did a marvelous job of getting us focused on what our needs would be in advance of the storm and in leading the team in dealing with issues as they came up. My team, Team D, was “on deck” and set to come in on Sunday evening. We stood down from Code Yellow on Sunday afternoon.

Kudos also to staff in our Facilities, Engineering and Nutrition departments  (Mitch Scholtes, Scott Sporre, Sam Tracey, Chas Pearce, Joe Warnecker, Charles Pochepko, George Dillon & Bob Marshall) who dealt with electrical issues, overnight flood remediation, cutting down and removing six trees near entrances and parking garages, false alarms with fire systems, and maintained food services for patients and staff on Saturday night into Sunday with no disruptions.

Dr. Chessare and Carolyn Candiello thank several members of the  Facilities, Engineering & Emergency Management staff for their work during Hurricane Irene.
Staff scheduled to work during the weekend were reminded to pack overnight supplies as we didn’t know what travel would be like.  Kudos to quite a number of employees who spent the night on Saturday to ensure our patients were cared for.

Sarah Roehl-Jacobs in Medical Records, Casey Porter Freeman, RN, from the Post Anesthesia Care Unit and Ryan Toth from the Emergency Department all performed "above and beyond" the normal protocol for weekend department coverage, staying overnight Saturday in order to guarantee continuity of patient care and ensure other staff would not have to travel to the hospital in the storm.  When our Central Sterile Processing Department lost power for a brief time on Saturday evening, employees Damon Briley and Violeta Gavin stayed overnight Saturday trying to get the sterilization equipment back online only to have their efforts go for naught when we were thrown a curveball just after 6 a.m. Sunday when the power went out hospitalwide.

Our brand-new emergency generators kicked in but while life-sustaining and other critical patient care equipment was connected to the generators, the chillers were not and for the nine hours that the main power was out, the temperature became somewhat uncomfortable for patients and staff.  On Sunday at 2:30 pm, I was in contact with Maryland Secretary of Health Joshua Sharfstein. Secretary Sharfstein was assessing the state of Maryland’s hospitals and he assured me that getting the Towson hospitals’ power restored was among the state’s top priorities. I was very glad when Carolyn informed me at 3 p.m. that the power had been restored. 

However, because the humidity levels increased when the air conditioning wasn’t working, the team had another hurdle to overcome as sterile equipment in the operating rooms was compromised.  More than 70 elective surgeries for Monday had to be postponed due to environmental cleaning and the reprocessing of all surgical instrument sets in house, and staff were able to get the cases all rescheduled by Tuesday, quite a yeoman’s effort. ORs had to be terminally cleaned and the complete inventory of sterile equipment was compromised and needed to be reprocessed. When I rounded on Monday afternoon in our central sterilizing department, our team, under the direction of Steve Adams, with assistance from the OR team led by Treva Kosco and Laura Perdue, had the situation well under control. Many operative kits had been sent out to be re-sterilized and staff displayed incredible teamwork working around the clock to ensure we would be ready for surgeries on Tuesday.  We even picked up a few surgical cases from a local surgicenter that had also lost power. 

Kudos to Central Sterile staff members who were assigned to work Sunday (Damon Briley, Violeta Gavin, Felicia Bostick , Mike Neally,  Lattia Lawson and Shiela Horne), all of whom who had lost power at their homes but still made it into work. Other Central Sterile staff members who braved the elements to offer assistance included Dan Schaefer, Doreen Schaefer, Maurice Dill and Jayd Aposaga).

Unfortunately, several patients didn’t receive the messages about canceled surgeries and still showed up for their scheduled Monday appointments.  No worries - a crew of OR staff - Kathy Lynch, RN, Brigid O'Keefe, Kim Thornton and Michelle Smith - all came in on Monday to greet the patients, explain the situation, handle service recovery and make them feel better, as well as to prep charts and schedules for Tuesday’s busy day in the ORs.

The storm also impacted GBMC at Hunt Manor, which has been without power and electricity all week.   We moved clinicians, patients and support staff to our GBMA practices in Hunt Valley and Texas Station each day this week in order to continue providing care for our community. 

Gilchrist Hospice Care had to make plans for the special needs of a patient population not just at their on-campus inpatient unit but at private homes, long-term care centers and assisted living facilities across Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties and Baltimore City where they provide daily care for hundreds of patients.

For homecare patients, Gilchrist staff contacted each family to do a "tuck- in” call to review the patient's current comfort and care concerns and needed medications, supplies, equipment and oxygen.   Weekend staff left their usual home in Hunt Valley and relocated to the Gilchrist Center (on the GBMC campus) where facilities staff (led by Jack
Hammel and Bill Kennedy) secured the units and stayed on site during our power outage until the rain subsided.

Gilchrist staff safely admitted eight new patients on Saturday and four on Sunday (thanks to
Venus Corpus and her team!) and made close to another 100 home visits by hospice aides, social workers, and nurses.  These included death visits, visits to monitor patients in pain, patients who were actively dying, and visits for support families with bathing, and other supportive activities. 
Like many of our employees, I was also without power at home until Thursday evening, and I commend our staff for putting patients’ needs first.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones or suffered property damage due to the flooding or wind damage of Irene.

Staff looking for more information about GBMC’s emergency preparedness efforts can visit the Critical Incident / Emergency Management section of our InfoWeb: http://infoweb/body.cfm?id=114

How did you weather the storm while working at GBMC or while at home?  Please share your comments below.

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