Ten days after Hurricane Irene knocked down trees and power lines and flooded basements and highways, New Jersey was hit with more heavy rain and winds. Remnants of Tropical Storm Lee caused roads to flood, especially those near the Delaware and Pequannock rivers.
Although nothing like the destruction caused by the hurricane, staff was challenged once again to get to work at some local hospitals. “The floodings caused us concern as the rivers rose and roads closed, but every staff member arrived safe and ready to work,” said Joanne Reich, RN, MA, NE-A, BC, vice president and CNO at Chilton Hospital in Pompton Plains, N.J. “We were on alert because we knew what had happened after the hurricane and what we might need to do.”
Lessons learnedChris Ruhren, RN
Dealing with the unexpected and sustainability are two issues that New Jersey facilities focused on before, during and after Hurricane Irene. Chris Ruhren, RN, MAS, BSN, assistant vice president of patient care services and clinical director of the Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, is incident commander for the SBMC Emergency Operations Center, which is supported by the Barnabas Health System EOC Command Center.
“Different events bring their own set of challenges,” Ruhren said. “Before Hurricane Irene, we were prepared for a power outage, which didn’t occur, but we underestimated the flooding and road closures.” At the command center, Ruhren and staff directed employees driving to the hospital, based on the road flooding and closure information provided by state authorities.
“Sometimes it’s the aftermath of the event that may cause even more problems,” Ruhren said. Because of the water advisory after the hurricane, staff at SBMC used bottled water for drinking and cleaning instruments before sterilization. About eight days after the hurricane, the water ban was lifted after water system checks were completed.
Staff also unexpectedly could not get to the facility for work after the hurricane. “In the center, we knew exactly what was going on in the six hospitals and throughout the state,” Ruhren said. “We could focus on SBMC, which was hardest hit, and administration and staff were exemplary in their teamwork and dedication to the patients.”
Chilton is in an area that suffered significant flooding and road closures during the hurricane. The main road into the hospital, side entrance, back parking lots and receiving docks were impassable for about 36 hours, and many employees experienced loss of power and flooding in their homes. Because of an unexpected loss of power for a brief time, Chilton kept backup generators going for about six hours.
“Not knowing whether we would lose power again, we kept our emergency generators running and talked with our surgeons and anesthesiologists about which urgent surgeries could not be postponed temporarily,” Reich said. “It wasn’t just a matter of focusing on the events of the day.” Chilton kept the command center open for two days after the hurricane.
Reaching out to others
At Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., preparation for the hurricane was centrally coordinated through the Center for Disaster Management. Additional clinical support and volunteer personnel were on site to assist in case rapid deployment of patients was needed. “We prepped a vacant clinical unit in case of an internal evacuation, and as a result we were able to accept patients from hospitals and facilities in the New York City and Long Island evacuation zones as well as local patients who arrived throughout the storm,” said Catherine Spratt, RN, MPH, OCN, NE-BC, vice president of patient care services at WMC.
Before the hurricane, medically fragile patients who were evacuated from private homes and nursing facilities in Atlantic City arrived and stayed at Chilton for 48 hours. “We were happy to help others during and after the hurricane,” Reich said.