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Blizzard 2011: No Matter the Job, Nurses Deliver for Patients

A hospital director of Maternal-Child Services and Nursing Professional Development probably would not envision delivering cafeteria food to patients.

But Don Houchins, RN, MSN, NE-BC, who holds that position at Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center in Chicago, happily took over those duties during the blizzard that hit the region Feb. 1-2.

“I just did what a lot of people would do,” Houchins said.

Many members of the Saints Mary and Elizabeth nursing staff took on expanded roles to keep patients safe and ensure they would receive quality care.

Day-shift nurses who could not get out of the parking lot returned to work. Night-shift nurses braved the peak of the storm to report for duty.

Nurse manager Chris Fitza, RN, MBA, took over secretarial duties. Lisa Prytula, RN, who had just moved from staff nurse to a nurse educator position the week before, returned to her former role and took care of patients.

Chris Fitza, RN

Angie Hernandez, RN, worked for 16 hours, slept for eight and worked another 16. Dani Wetzel, RN, who lives down the street from the hospital, volunteered to come in for an unscheduled shift and, Houchins said, opened her home to three colleagues overnight.

With the nursing assistant work force depleted, the RNs did primary care. A hospice patient died during the storm, and nurses attended to the needs of 13 family members, making sure they were as comfortable as possible.

Hospital managers and administrators made sure nurses who stayed over had complimentary meals, toiletries, a change of scrubs and somewhere to sleep. Some nurses slept on cots in the gymnasium.

Before turning in, those nurses watched a movie and ate popcorn.

“We called it a slumber party,” Fitza said. “We said we were going to work, then have a slumber party, then go back to work.”

The next morning, with the storm having ended but most roads still impassable, the kitchen staff was at far from full strength. Houchins responded to a request for help.

With most cooks unable to show up for work, patients understood why they had to settle for cereal, coffee and toast rather than the usual hot meal. Houchins took a cart of trays and delivered them to, by his count, 40 or 50 patients.

As an RN, Houchins could interpret the code tags that provide guidance on which patients can eat which foods.

“With all that was going on outside, having to deliver trays is definitely not the end of the world,” Houchins said. “Actually, it’s a good thing.”

It also was representative of the effort of the entire staff.

“Nurses and other staff are creative and resilient,” Fitza said. “We rolled up our sleeves and did what we had to in a bad situation.”

By | 2020-04-15T13:11:01-04:00 February 21st, 2011|Categories: Greater Chicago, Regional|0 Comments

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