An ambulance consumed by rushing water. A train derailment. Dozens and dozens or road closings. The staffs of Carolinas HealthCare System Union and Carolinas HealthCare System Anson endured everything Hurricane Florence could throw at them. But their commitment to care for both patients, their communities and their teammates never wavered.

News | 3 years ago

In the Eye of the Storm, Hospital Staffs Band Together

An ambulance consumed by rushing water. A train derailment. Dozens and dozens of road closings. The staffs of Carolinas HealthCare System Union and Carolinas HealthCare System Anson endured everything Hurricane Florence could throw at them. But their commitment to care for patients, their communities and their teammates never wavered.

While the coast of the Carolinas bore the brunt of Hurricane Florence, there was hardly a corner of the two states that wasn’t impacted by the storm.

Closer to Charlotte, both Union and Anson counties were located closer to the eyewall – which was circulating heavy bands of tropical moisture.

Preliminary reports showed parts of both counties may have incurred more than 15 inches of rain during the storm – in addition to other impacts including wind damage, power outages, road closures and other service disruptions. But the rainfall was the biggest impact in the area.

Above and Beyond

Alicia Campbell, vice president of operations for Carolinas HealthCare System Union, says the hospital and staff were resilient throughout a storm that produced historic floods across the county. Physicians, nurses, imaging staff, environmental services, food service staff and administrators arrived early, stayed late, and many even slept at the hospital Saturday and Sunday nights as driving conditions deteriorated.

Emergency Management staff floated from Atrium Health facilities in Union, Anson and Stanly counties, organizing operations and addressing any critical situations. Robbie Ossman, a facilities and maintenance group specialist, even stationed himself at Carolinas HealthCare System Anson as it looked like they may be getting impacted the most – while his own house was experiencing flooding.

“He really did every single thing he could do to make sure all of us were covered,” Campbell said “He has a heart of gold.”

Carolinas HealthCare System Union’s building and maintenance staff placed sandbags around specific areas to help mitigate flooding and responded to help fix any reported leaks across the campus. Environmental services staff helped pitch in to help identify any leaks or other problem areas for staff to fix before they became bigger problems.

The hospital’s dietary team stepped up to make sure patients and staff stayed well fed throughout the storm – especially those who decided to stay overnight. They even made cookies and rounded them to nurses as a special pick-me-up.

Overcoming Challenges

Bryan Edwards, director of the Union Emergency Medical Services, which is managed by Carolinas HealthCare System Union, and his staff started preparing for the storm several days ahead of time. But the amount of water that fell in such a short amount of time did overwhelm some parts of the county – making some roads unpassable and paramedics’ jobs even more difficult.

Union EMS personnel had the difficult task of responding to two difficult situations over the weekend when a 1-year-old was swept away in floodwaters and died. And later, a man was found dead near his flooded car in the Marshville area.

But even when the team lost an ambulance when a road quickly flooded – team members grabbed what life-saving medications and equipment they could – losing many personal items in the process – scampered out the back and reported back to the base to make sure those resources could be put to use on other trucks.

“We have a good team and we’re ready for stuff like that,” Edwards says. “I always tell Alicia three little words ‘We got this.’ It’s the nature of our business and why we train for it.”

Edwards said his team positioned an ambulance at Monroe Middle School – which was turned into a temporary shelter and began offering emergency refuge to dozens of people – many of who had medical issues.

The one thing that will stick with Edwards for a long time is the camaraderie and spirit that the entire staff showed throughout the event. They were always running at 105 to 110 percent of staffing. They had extra crews waiting in the wings – even when a truck wasn’t available. Supervisors came in to provide extra support for the team, cook meals and coordinate with other teams.

“Everybody pulled their weight,” Edwards says.

Committed to Care

Dave Anderson, vice president and administrator at Carolinas HealthCare System Anson, praised the staff for their tremendous commitment throughout the storm. The western parts of the county – including the communities of Morven, Ansonville and Lilesville – received the heaviest rainfall. There was mass flooding, power outages and more than 70 roads were closed. On top of that, Anson County also experienced a tornado warning, train derailment – which included contamination – and a busted dam.

But the hospital remained open to serve all patients no matter what Florence threw at them – and there was a lot. There was a leak in the main lobby ceiling and building staff helped dig a trench near the building to help divert rushing water that was at risk of getting close to the facility.

“Multiple teammates spent the night in the facility – some for the duration,” Anderson says. “There was a tremendous commitment by teammates to care for patients and provide support to the community. The entire team came together, including teammates from the ED, inpatient, respiratory care, security, radiology, laboratory, registration, Carolinas Primary Care and administration.”

Carolinas HealthCare System Union staff also provided support from their food services, materials resource management, environmental services and emergency management staff who were on-site in Wadesboro for the storm. One thing that Anderson will remember for quite some time – a local resident who braved the weather to bring food in to help feed the staff.

“All teammates and physicians had a pleasant, positive, can-do attitude in working together to keep everyone safe,” Anderson says.