RCH answers the call for help

Published 8:56 pm Friday, April 22, 2011

Submitted by Lisa Newsome

Roanoke-Chowan Hospital

AHOSKIE – Hospitals stand as a beacon for those in need of medical attention. That was indeed the case here Saturday night, April 16.

A short time following the devastating tornados that tore through Bertie and Hertford counties, the sound of wailing sirens pieced the night air in Ahoskie as ambulances rolled towards Roanoke-Chowan Hospital.

RCH responded to the disaster by calling in additional doctors, nurses and support staff.  A total of 42 disaster-related patients were seen in the emergency department, with 30 of those arriving between 8:30 p.m. and midnight.  Eight patients were transferred to Pitt County Memorial Hospital while four were admitted to RCH. Only one disaster-related patient remained in the Emergency Department by 6 a.m. Sunday.

Sadly, ten fatalities were transported to RCH during the night.

According to Nettie Evans, Vice President for Patient Care Services at RCH, four physicians came in to assist the two ED physicians and one PA for a total of six physicians and one PA responding to the disaster.

Additional radiology and crisis management staff were called in to assist.  At one time, up to four RCH behavioral health counselors and social workers worked with numerous adults and children who were victims of the disaster, as well as family members of the fatalities.

Special waiting areas were set up by housekeeping and dietary staff for families waiting to learn the condition of their relatives.  Beverage stations were set up in two locations; behavioral health staff worked with some families in private conference room areas.  Local ministers came in to assist doctors and social workers in delivering sad news about victims of the tornadoes.  Staff made rounds on over 50 people in the waiting areas, keeping them informed, giving hugs, listening to people share their experiences, and taking family members in to see their injured relatives.  One elderly man on a stretcher told about how his house had collapsed around him.

A husband was brought to the exam room to see his wife and told her, “We’ve lost everything. It’s all gone – the whole house.”

RCH Police monitored the parking lot, directing ambulances, and  brought some of the injured into the hospital in wheelchairs; they set up chairs along the hallway for triage.  Over 13 residents of a family group home that was destroyed by the high winds came in at one time for triage.  Jeff Minton, RN, with assistants, continued to triage through the night.

“This was an example of incredible people providing incredible care with incredible teamwork,” said Evans.

She added, “The rapid influx of severely injured patients potentially could have quickly overwhelmed our 15-bed Emergency Department because 13 beds were already occupied by patients at the time we received notification of injuries in the field.

“However, advanced communication and teamwork with law enforcement, Hertford and Bertie EMS and transport services coupled with the activation of the internal RCH Emergency Management plan resulted in rapid and organized priority setting and patient care stabilization and treatment.  In my thirty plus years in health care, I have seen many disasters but have not seen one of this magnitude handled any better.”

Evans closed by saying, “Under the leadership of Dr Joe Tripp, ED medical director, and Sharon Casey, RN, charge nurse in the Emergency Department, the patients were quickly seen by triage nurses, priorities determined, and stabilization and treatment occurred.  Many thanks to law enforcement, EMS, transport services, RCH staff and EastCare for the superb management of this challenging situation.”