In a span of four hours, nurses at Dorchester General Hospital felt the full force of Hurricane Irene. After high winds and heavy rains began on the evening of Aug. 27 at the facility in Cambridge, Md., so did a leak in the roof of the hospital’s laboratory.
“The lab started around 9 (p.m.) with the beginning of their leaks,” said Ryan Foster, RN, MS, CNML, NEA-BC, manager, critical care and multi-specialty care.
Foster and Jane Flowers, RN, MSN, CNOR, manager, surgical and ambulatory services, were among the team members manning the hospital’s command center, which opened at noon Aug. 27. The team managed leaks in several areas, but none as serious as in the lab.
“By 1 (a.m. Aug. 28), we were making rounds every half hour from top to bottom [of the building],” Foster said. “By 1 o’clock, the wind had really picked up, the rain was coming down in full force and the leak in the lab was no longer a leak.”Ambulances line up outside of Dorchester General Hospital in Cambridge, Md., to begin evacuating patients Aug. 28 after Hurricane Irene damaged the facility and forced its closure.
“It was like you were standing outside,” Flowers said. “It was pretty dramatic.”
Ninety minutes later, Dorchester nurses were planning for a 7 a.m. evacuation of patients to other Shore Health System facilities.
“At around 2:30 (a.m.), we finally decided there was nothing else we could do to try and salvage [the lab],” Foster said.
Nurses at Dorchester and throughout the DC/Maryland/Virginia region credited planning, communication and teamwork with helping them manage before, during and after Irene.The day after Hurricane Irene swept through the DC/Maryland/Virginia region, large fans were brought in to dry out Dorchester General Hospital.
“We almost overprepare,” said AnnMarie Hernandez, RN, a staff nurse in Dorchester’s ED. “It went so smooth.”
At Stafford (Va.) Hospital, LeaAnne Wilkinson, RN, BSN, patient care supervisor, was preparing staff for an Aug. 24 disaster preparedness exercise when an earthquake struck the region Aug. 23. “We had just looked that morning at our emergency preparedness binder,” Wilkinson said. “We had the forms all sitting right there.”
Cynthia Parker, RN, BSN, CCRN, nurse manager, MICU/SICU at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Va., said Wilkinson and her other colleagues throughout Mary Washington Healthcare had plenty of practice before Irene even arrived.RNs in Dorchester General’s command center kept in touch with Shore Health System colleagues via video conferencing technology.
Two days after the earthquake, a powerful thunderstorm knocked out power briefly at Mary Washington Hospital as staff were keeping an eye on Irene’s path.
“With the earthquake, we immediately set up areas for possible casualties because we are a trauma hospital,” Parker said. “The drill we were working on really focuses on communication between the ED and ICU and elsewhere. That helped a lot as far as the staff feeling organized and prepared.” Parker said preparations for Irene included placing flashlights with fresh batteries in each room and moving some patients to “core” rooms in the horseshoe-shaped ICU, away from rooms with windows.
“Was it intense at times? Yes,” said Mary Alice Vanhoy, RN, MSN, CEN, CPEN, NREMT-P, manager, Shore Health System’s Queen Anne’s Emergency Center, Grasonville, Md. “No one panicked. It made us think back to our plan. I don’t think (nurses) ever got to the point they were overwhelmed because this is something we prepared for.”
At Dorchester, which reopened Sept. 2, nurses recently practiced an evacuation drill that included loss of elevator services.
To ensure communication wasn’t lost at Anne Arundel Medical Center, Annapolis, Md., Sherry Perkins, RN, PhD, CNO/senior vice president of patient care services, said nurses and staff members received backup mobile phones.
Anne Arundel communicated before, during and after the hurricane in numerous ways, via emails to staff, fliers at all desks, overhead messages to patients and staff and with nurses making regular rounds to talk to patients about storm preparations and weather reports.
“The care never stopped because the nurses never stopped,” said Perkins, whose facility had 20 patient rooms and six other areas affected by water damage from Irene, all of which have been returned to service. “They showed up and gave excellent care like they do every day.”
The storm’s approach caused Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to expedite the transfer of its remaining patients to the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md.
About 30 patients who were scheduled to be moved Aug. 27 instead were transferred a day earlier as Walter Reed prepared to close its doors. The Bethesda facility, according to news reports, is expected to change its name this month to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.