I want to thank every member of our NHRMC team for your contributions during the winter storm that crippled the region last week. Our community needed us to be a rock of consistency, and we delivered. When most businesses in southeastern North Carolina had turned off the lights, you were here providing trauma care and emergency transport, delivering babies and providing overall excellent care to our patients. Those not at the bedside were making sure our operations continued smoothly: serving hundreds of meals, clearing parking lots and keeping our clinical support services running.
We know our community relies on us every day, regardless of the weather. So we always have a plan that enables us to fulfill that mission. The success of that plan hinges on the dedication of our employees and medical staff, who must shelter-in-place when travel becomes dangerous, and come in to relieve those who have worked during the storm when shelter-in-place is lifted.
How we decide to shelter-in-place
Because we get a lot of questions around storm decisions, I want to provide a little background to what goes into them. When dangerous weather threatens our region, the NHRMC Senior Leadership Team meets with our Emergency Management to discuss the potential threat and prepare to activate the Command Center if needed. The Command Center centralizes the flow of information, operations and decision making. There, we get updates from the National Weather Service and consult local and state emergency preparedness teams.
Employee safety and care for our patients are the primary drivers of our decision making. If we anticipate that travel will be unsafe, we consider the expected timing of the bad conditions to set a time to shelter-in-place. This is the point in which we don’t want our staff, physicians, visitors or patients coming and going from the hospital campuses. The time is set to both allow time for staff to travel in, and for the staff getting off work to travel home before conditions become hazardous. For those who live five minutes away, it may seem like the implementation of shelter-in-place is unnecessarily early, but for the staff who live an hour away, it is critically important.
With a hurricane, we face the brunt of the storm, and the wind dies and the flooding recedes, making the timing of lifting a shelter-in-place somewhat easier to pinpoint. But with the ice and snow in this storm, there was no clear end in sight. Freezing temperatures were forecast for days and we couldn’t keep the storm team staff sheltered, working and sleeping at the hospital until the ice on all the roads in multiple counties melted. Fatigue became a growing concern.
Using information collected from our EMS crews on the roads, our own travel, and reports from local agencies, we decided to lift the shelter-in-place on Friday morning. At that point, we had no reason to believe that waiting longer would have meant notably better road conditions. We had patients and families anxious to visit or be discharged, and staff who really needed to get home and rest. We tried to accommodate those who legitimately could not get in because of road conditions in their areas and kept a close eye on traffic conditions. We offered to transport some employees in four-wheel drive vehicles. We also arranged sleeping quarters for some employees who chose not to travel back-and-forth on Friday and Saturday and appreciated those who volunteered to come in early to ensure they could be here for their shift. It’s that type of dedication that makes a difference.
We know comfort levels with driving in the snow and ice are wide ranging. For those with experience, it may have seemed like no big deal. For those without that experience, it could have been much more intimidating. We appreciate everyone who cautiously made their way through the roads to do what we are called upon to do.
Thank you for understanding the decisions we make are not easy, but they’re always made with the best interests of our patients and staff in mind. Your commitment to our patients inspires me every day. And during the toughest of times, you shine the brightest.
John H. Gizdic