On Aug. 27, Hurricane Irene swept across Long Island. While preparing, staff at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y., and Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, N.Y. — members of Catholic Health Services of Long Island — stepped up to the plate through collaboration and teamwork. Their overwhelming display of confidence and resilience promoted safe, quality patient care in the face of adversity.
Early in the day, Good Samaritan began a phased evacuation of the entire facility, with many of the patients being transferred to St. Joseph Hospital. As the threat of high winds and flooding closed in on Long Island, St. Joseph became one of several hospitals in the health system that were key participants in carrying out the disaster plan that had been developed and practiced.
“The day before the storm hit, administrators at CHS met to plan for the storm,” said Margaret Minnick, RN, MSN, St. Joseph’s vice president of patient care services. “They asked how many beds we could offer Good Samaritan patients, while simultaneously, staff there were being told of the impending evacuation.”
From there, staff at St. Joseph’s flew into action, Minnick said. The first step was to expedite discharge orders for about 35 patients who were ready to go home but just awaiting a physician’s order.
In addition, a long-closed part of the hospital was used to accommodate Good Samaritan patients. “We opened a wing of the hospital that was previously used for peds and mother-baby services.” Minnick said. “We still have the certificate of occupancy and were able to use those beds, as well. When patients arrived that Friday night, we were ready to go.”
Talking between teams helped patient care stay on track. “Communication was the key to the evacuation,” said Arlene Costello, RN, nursing director of maternal-child health at Good Samaritan. “Days before the storm there were meetings to share the latest track of the storm and to identify potential vulnerabilities.”
The executive teams from both facilities were empowered to facilitate an evacuation plan and, in turn, empowered the leaders in each facility by providing them with necessary information, resources, support and the opportunity to ensure patient safety. Empowering the leaders led to meeting the health system’s goal of accomplishing timely, efficient and safe transfers of 49 med/surg and stroke patients to St. Joseph Hospital. “Once the evacuation decision was made, the Emergency Operations Center [at Good Samaritan] was operational and all communication flowed from this area,” Costello said.
Good Samaritan staff crossed county lines with apprehension. The thought of floating, not just out of their comfort zones, but to a completely different facility was daunting. St. Joseph staff feared the weaving of two cultures and the effects on patient care and outcomes. They collectively prepared themselves for the worst, and were extremely nervous about how this experience would unfold. “We wanted to make sure that Good Samaritan staff were comfortable,” Minnick said, “from making sure they were safe to making sure they had enough paper to write with and paper to use.”
During the next 48 hours, the experiences shared between staff at both facilities were overwhelming, enlightening and promoted renewed faith. Strangers helped, educated, advocated for and improvised to deliver high-quality care. The connections and bonds were instantaneous. It evolved into sharing processes, protocols, paperwork and helping hands.
At St. Joseph Hospital, employees from all disciplines escorted arriving staff to their assignments and went out of their way to make newcomers feel welcome. Secretaries helped with order entry and looked up lab results. Supervisors offered support and encouragement. Nursing assistants went out of their way to help. Case management helped arrange home care and assisted with discharge planning. Nursing education worked extended hours to orient and be available to all staff. Administrators warmly greeted Good Samaritan staff and offered needed assistance, while juggling emergency preparedness updates.
During this experience, disaster plans were tested and the execution of those plans led to recognition that empowerment, collaboration and teamwork produce great patient outcomes. Minnick said she received positive feedback, including letters from patients and Good Samaritan staff. “It was a wonderful hospital experience for our staff,” Minnick said. “Our motto is patients first. It’s all about the patients. We wanted to maintain that level of care for those patients as well.”