On Aug. 28, New Jersey residents were slammed with 75 mph winds, heavy surf and more than 10 inches of rain that knocked down trees and power lines and flooded basements, streets and highways. Although thousands of residents evacuated the shores of Cape May, Atlantic and Ocean counties, overflowing rivers and streams turned inland towns and cities into islands when Hurricane Irene hit the state. The hurricane exited New Jersey that same morning, but the rivers and streams continued to rise all day.
Located inland, Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville, N.J., did not anticipate being surrounded by water, but early Aug. 28, no one could enter or leave the hospital. With the assistance of the state and county Offices of Emergency Management, a surgeon and relief staff were brought into the hospital by Army transportation vehicles. “It was quite an experience riding in it, sitting on a bench and holding on to the straps in an open Army vehicle,” said Sue Weaver, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, CRNI, shift administrator.
Jackie Galante, RN, BSN, staff nurse, 4B, was on duty during the storm and worked the weekend. “After caring for patients with three nurse colleagues, two nursing assistants and a unit secretary, I left the hospital on [Aug. 29] tired, but inspired by a new definition of T.E.A.M. Together Everyone Achieves Miracles,” she said.
New Jersey hospitals had prepared for the worst. Throughout the state, hospital command centers were opened. In operational meetings, facility plans were finalized and information disseminated. Communication lines were established to city and state emergency preparedness operations. OR cases were canceled and patients who could be discharged safely went home. Staffing was confirmed and supplies, food and staff accommodations were ready.
“I learned from this experience that no matter how prepared we are for any catastrophe, we need a clear mind when making decisions, weighing options and [must] always make decisions based on patient and staff safety,” said Rosalie Grantoza, RN, BC, CCRN, MBA, DNP, senior director of nursing at Raritan Bay Medical Center-Old Bridge Division.Kelly Marin, RN, staff nurse, progressive care unit, and other relief staff were escorted by officers and transported by military vehicles during and after the storm to Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville.
During the storm, staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., were told a local emergency rescue worker had lost his life. While mourning, Maryann Brookes, RN, BSN, CCRN, clinical director of the shock trauma unit and neurosurgical ICU, learned that although her family was safe, her home was submerged with water from the flooded river. “She put the needs of her patients above her personal loss and her tireless dedication was an incredible display of love and caring,” said Nicole Martinez, RN, BSN, director of nursing informatics.
Driving to work that morning, Krista Kit, RN, BSN, head nurse, surgical oncology unit, realized her car was rapidly filling with water. Rescued by a police officer, she arrived at the hospital, changed into scrubs and cared for her patients.
At Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus, N.J., RNs creatively cared for patients. The emergency medical record system went down for about 12 hours, and after the EMR backup forms ran out, RNs found the paper previously used for documentation. In areas where the lights were out temporarily, furniture was moved so patients could sit and talk with one another. “During the brief time that we experienced a power outage, our administration called together a team of nurses who could be ready to manually ambu-bag our ventilator-dependent patient in case the outage lasted longer than the generator’s life. Although we didn’t need to do that, everyone was ready and willing,” said Ben Evans, RN, APN, DNP, associate vice president of behavioral health.
The University Hospital in Newark, N.J., opened the hospital command center and housed more than 125 staff members before, during and after the event. “With all of the preparations, the key item is communication. Keeping staff, patients and visitors informed so they understand what is going on and how they can prepare themselves and their families is critical,” said Brian Dolan, RN, BSN, CEN, ACM, HEM, CCEMT-P, ED acting director, director of disaster preparedness and hospital safety officer at The University Hospital.