Residents transported to PGH after losing power during tropical storm By Shannon Sneed

Pam Douglas, Chief Nursing Officer at Putnam General Hospital and Felicia McDonel, PGH Quality Coordinator and Emergency Preparedness, stand beside the HAM radio (amateur radio) that hospital staff uses during a disaster.

There are a lot to circumstances to consider when preparing the local hospital after learning a hurricane is barreling across several states and headed for your community. But that’s just what local nurses and hospital officials did after a recent hurricane downgraded into Tropical Storm Irma and hit Putnam County, knocking out power throughout the community. Coordinating for any emergency, and particularly for extreme weather conditions of the type caused by Tropical Storm Irma, takes a large number of people who must work together to make sure the safety of the community and hospital patients are safe, local hospital officials said. Putnam General Hospital is a member of the Region H Emergency Hospital group and a Navicent Health partner, which all work together to provide quality care in a safe environment for all patients in their group. “We had time to prepare for Hurricane Irma,” said Pam Douglas, chief nursing officer at Putnam General Hospital. “So we began communication with different groups twice a day to coordinate the amount of beds we would have available for evacuees.” As the storm raged through the southeast U.S., PGH began receiving calls on Sept. 7 from hospitals. For several days, hospitals in areas such as Brunswick on the first day reached out for help with finding beds for acute care patients, with the last call coming in seven days later from a Savannah hospital. When the calls started, Douglas said PGH could have also been without food, water, medications, supplies or oxygen, so the staff began coordinating to prepare for those conditions if the situation went that far. “We are an acute care facility,” said Douglas. “When you are talking about the weather, you never know what is going to happen.” There are tornadoes that can come with a hurricane and the staff at PGH had to be prepared for that, as well as possible injuries that might occur during a disaster, including chainsaw accidents and other injuries. “Every disaster is handled differently,” said Douglas. During a previous ice storm in the area, the hospital was able to open some of its beds when some local residents lost power, and even provided clean linens and other amenities to help the community; but that storm was mostly localized to Putnam County and its surrounding communities. Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irma was not only a multi-state, but also a multi-country weather phenomena. Besides, keeping their beds open for critical care patients and evacuees, PGH had to make sure their own staff was safe and available to help with the patients. Douglas noted there was some confusion during the storm as people who lost power called 911 to have EMS take them to the hospital for shelter. However, the hospital is not set up as an emergency shelter during storms, which would require special staff and safety personnel as well as a stock of provisions for the displaced community. Felicia McDonel, PGH quality coordinator and emergency preparedness, said the hospital staff trains all year on how to care for its patients during emergency situations. “We have acutely ill patients here and if we have no power and supplies, we have to shelter in place,” said McDonel, also noting they must comply with a set limit of patients in order to ensure safe and quality of care. The hospital has a plan in place during certain disasters such as a hurricane, and prepares for being without any support from emergency management if the situation calls for that level of emergency. “We have to be prepared to help our structure,” said Douglas. “EMA is out helping with other duties such as downed power lines, and they may not be available to help the hospital.” When EMS started transporting community residents to the hospital who had called 911 because they were without power and had no critical care needs, the hospital staff assisted them in finding out where they needed to go and what they needed to do. Douglas noted some of those transports were on oxygen and had feeding pumps. “EMS was inundated with calls and were running around the county taking care of them,” she said. One such Putnam County resident who was transported to the hospital after losing power at her home, reported about in a previous edition of The Eatonton Messenger, was directed to emergency management after telling hospital staff that she was not seeking treatment, Douglas noted. “She didn’t have her oxygen machine with her,” said Douglas. “So EMS staff went back to her home and retrieved her equipment for her.” The resident was then taken to the sheriff’s office where she was provided with shelter and a place to operate her oxygen machine. During the storm, the community worked together diligently to reduce risks to the citizens, but when there is a power outage in the capacity that Tropical Storm Irma caused, the hospital emergency coordinators said there must be a plan in place for residents whose power is lost. The hospital has a large generator, but not everything runs on a generator. When they lose Internet services, the hospital also loses the use of much of their equipment. Douglas advised that the operation of the hospital reverts back to manual procedures, including having to use flashlights because there are several areas of the hospital that is left without lighting. “There were several calls with people running out of oxygen and several hospice patients were in need,” said Douglas. “There must be a facility that provides oxygen and other such supplies because they could not bring their tanks.” 

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