during Hurricane Irene are, from left, Jennifer Tornetta, director, public relations; Ann Szapor, RN, assistant vice president for nursing; Amy Bird, director, physician recruitment; John Hunt, corporate director, security; Heather Santa Barbara, RN, clinical director, medical surgical and pediatrics; Linda Dutch, manager, imaging services, ARMC City Campus and Debra Fox, director of process management and chief safety officer.
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 once Hurricane Irene hit the state.
The hurricane exited New Jersey that same morning, but the rivers and streams continued to rise all day.
Prepared for the worst
Hospital command centers were opened. Facility plans were finalized and information was given to staff. Communication lines were established within and outside facilities 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.
Located by the shore in Cape May where residents were told to evacuate, Cape Regional Medical Center’s staff reviewed code triage protocols, including horizontal evacuations, moved patients away from windows and held frequent huddles regarding strategy plans.
“I helped out in Hurricane Katrina, and in comparison this time I never had that feeling of dread because I had the life-saving equipment, nursing personnel and the basic essentials for survival during this hurricane,” said Wendy Schmolk, RN, BSN, CEN, nursing supervisor.Robyn Begley, RN
As nurses at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, N.J., look back, they validated what they knew to be critical in preparing for the hurricane.
“We had to be prepared for a worst-case scenario,” said Robyn Begley, RN, DNP, NEA-BC, the CNO at AtlantiCare, who was at ARMC’s satellite ED in Hammonton throughout the weekend. “We had arranged to have critical care staff on site … in Hammonton and as a result, we were ready to care for two critical patients.”
They would have automatically transferred the critical patients to ARMC’s Atlantic City campus, where the Harrah’s Regional Trauma Center is based, but they could not because of state regulations about EMS transfer and response during severe weather. “We had enough supplies — portable suction just in case we needed it — and we were prepared to follow down-time procedures if we lost power,” Begley said.
Hurricane Irene left devastation and destruction in its wake. More than 900,000 homes and businesses in the state were left without power as waters flooded homes and buildings. Cleanup efforts continue across New Jersey after the first hurricane to make a direct hit on the state in 108 years.
The same week Hurricane Irene hit, much of the east coast experienced an earthquake. “Our CEO scaled the ladders to reach our 30-foot, 15-ton statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and discovered it was cracked. We closed the front doors and opened our command center,” said Anne McGinley, RN, APN, PhD, the CNO and vice president, education and research at Lourdes Health System in Camden, N.J. The news of Hurricane Irene came soon after, and Lourdes stayed in emergency preparedness mode. “We are grateful the storm was not as bad as predicted, but it was a good way to test our systems with two events in one week,” McGinley said.
Actions in anticipation
Before the hurricane hit, Kennedy University Hospital, Washington Township in Turnersville, N.J., sent six nurses, one ED technician and two respiratory therapists to Rowan University in Glassboro to assist in caring for more than 1,500 people who had been evacuated from Atlantic City.
Kennedy RNs Josephine DiFilippi, Natalie D’Alessandro, Lisa Ingling, Monique White, Lea Kellum and Loretta Cardone helped assess and treat evacuees for blood sugar and blood pressure control, headaches, toothaches, dehydration, chest pain and chronic respiratory problems. “Only 13 needed to come to the hospital for further evaluation, and of the 13 only a few were admitted for further treatment. This kept the ED census down and kept the evacuees and emergency transport people safe,” said Kathleen Tregear, RN, MSN, JD, vice president, clinical services.
In anticipation, St. Francis Medical Center, in Trenton, N.J., accepted 23 patients from the Ocean View Long Term Care Facility in Atlantic County and 12 patients from the Waters Edge Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Trenton.
“These patients were cared for by staff from the facility as well as from St. Francis nursing staff, and we used an electronic patient tracking system, a collaborative effort between a number of New Jersey facilities,” said Mary Jo Abbondanza, RN, BS, executive director, health promotions and marketing.
Janice Petrella Lynch, RN, MSN, is a regional reporter.