“Practice does make perfect,” Karen Carroll, Beaufort Memorial Hospital vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer, said with a laugh a few days after Hurricane Irma blew through Beaufort on September 11. Though no one wanted additional practice battling another big storm, the hospital’s response team rose to the occasion and worked with community partners and others around the state to protect lives and hospital property.
With Hurricane Matthew experience under their belt, Beaufort Memorial’s team assembled quickly. This time, though, some special circumstances made their job slightly easier. First, despite dire early predictions, Irma herself was less intense than her 2016 predecessor. By meteorologists’ estimate she brought roughly half the rain and wind.
Second, there was significant warning before the storm. “We began talking about it the last few days of August,” said Karen. Because the hospital was “well aware of the potential very early,” staff members were able to gather extra medications and supplies and confirm appropriate work schedules for everyone. The governor’s mandatory medical evacuation order for health care facilities along the coast came a welcome four days before Irma hit, giving the team much-needed time to move patients. Thank you to AnMed Health, Carolinas Hospital System, Greenwood Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, Lexington Medical Center, Pelham Medical Center and Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System for taking in the 35 patients who couldn’t be discharged.
Finally, BMH benefited considerably from participation in the new South Carolina Hospital Association-sponsored Mutual Aid and Sheltering Agreement, Karen said. With a call from the Beaufort team to SCHA, staff there set to work on finding placements for those Beaufort patients needing evacuation, freeing up BMH leadership to plan care for the 19 patients able to remain in the hospital once the state granted BMH a shelter-in-place waiver.
The Emergency Department stayed open throughout the storm, treating patients and referring them as necessary to hospitals in Charleston and Savannah, as did Labor and Delivery. Early each morning the team gathered at BMH Incident Command or called in for the daily safety huddle/hurricane report. Reports were concise and upbeat. “We all knew the plan, and knew we were going to rock on through the storm,” Karen said.
When the rain and wind began in earnest, patients remained safe and the building secure. By Tuesday morning, life at Beaufort Memorial was quickly returning to normal. Patients were en route back from sheltering hospitals, units were staffing up to receive them and cleanup on campus and at off-site locations was proceeding. By Wednesday it was business as usual for BMH and its clinics.
As is their way, BMH employees on duty before, during and after Irma lent helping hands and strong backs regardless of their role. “I am so thankful for this caring team,” said Ray Brown, director of Safety and interim director of Plant Services. The team’s fast, dependable response didn’t catch Russell Baxley, president and chief executive officer of Beaufort Memorial Hospital, off guard. “Just like last year during Hurricane Matthew,” he said, “it is the entire BMH family that kept the hospital going.”