10/08/07 — Hospital staff ready in case hurricane hits

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Hospital staff ready in case hurricane hits

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 8, 2007 1:45 PM

Shutting down services at a hospital is not an option, so officials at Wayne Memorial make it their business to be ready for any type of emergency.

Patient care cannot be interrupted, so back-up generators are constantly tested and massive food freezers, also generator-powered, are regularly stocked to have sufficient provisions on hand.

Jeff Brogneaux is a house supervisor at the hospital and responsible for disaster preparedness and updating the emergency preparedness plan, more familiarly known as "the red book."

"It's an all-hazards plan -- from a mass casualty event from outside of the county to something internal and everything in between," he explained.

Wayne Memorial is especially prepared for hurricanes, Brogneaux said, because the storms' annual recurrences provide ample opportunities to practice for them.

The hospital readies for such an emergency much like the public -- stocking up on food and water, extra batteries -- just on a grander scale, he said.

"We're required to maintain a certain amount, no matter what. ... We have to be able to function a minimum of three days, without any rationing or anything like that," he said.

With modern technology providing advance notice on when a storm is pending, Brogneaux said there is usually time to order additional provisions where needed.

Historically, there has not been a problem with flooding at the hospital since it's built on an elevation. The bigger challenge has been for others to reach the hospital when roads are impassable.

Recalling an occasion when the National Guard was called upon to assist when flooding affected nearby Kitty Askins, Brogneaux said having sufficient workers on hand can also be an issue.

"The staffing part is probably our biggest challenge -- how do they get here, how do you get the ones home that have been here two days with no sleep?" said Amy Cain, public information director at the hospital.

Those on hand might also be required to pitch in where needed. Which is why ongoing training for the entire staff proves beneficial, Brogneaux said.

"We cover disaster drills. Non-clinical (staff) may have to do something they don't normally do, if we got overwhelmed," he said. "Help with registration or run an errand, push a bed."

When a hurricane strikes, patient care is not a problem.

"Typically during the hurricane and immediately after, we see very few people," Brogneaux said. "People don't get out in it. They know it's bad, and they don't go out."

That changes in the days and weeks to follow, though.

"We see an increase in patient load, because they don't have power and water, they don't get to their medications, so they come here to ward things off or they have waited too long and need help," he said.

Respiratory patients, particularly those without power, can also be found utilizing hospital services.

"It's cooler, they can plug in nebulizers. We do that frequently," Brogneaux said.

As for operations, he noted that emergency surgeries continue, but elective procedures are usually canceled and rescheduled.

Barring a tornado, patients already hospitalized when a storm strikes should be very safe in their rooms, officials say.

"We can move them, the beds can be pushed out into the halls, if need be," Brogneaux said.

The hospital collaborates with other local agencies on best practices for emergency management. Meetings are held frequently to lay the groundwork and ensure each knows what the other is doing, Brogneaux said.

Whether it's other emergency service outlets, the schools and Air Force Base, or working with the public, communication is key.

"Dispatch will consult with the physicians so that everybody is on the same page" when disaster strikes, Brogneaux said.

Being able to adapt to whatever happens is also helpful, he added.

"We have to be prepared, not locked into the plan ... common sense and logic need to dictate over a red book," he said.

So far, the combined efforts of those in the county have proven effective.

"Hurricanes are probably the thing we have tested the most, because that happens," Brogneaux said. "I think we function pretty well. We haven't shut down. It's not an option."