Lessons learned: Bristol Hospital examining disaster plan following October snow storm

NOTE: Front page story

By Brenda Maguire

BRISTOL — In the aftermath of the October snowstorm that brought the state to its knees, officials at Bristol Hospital say they’re taking what they learned from a week of widespread power outages to reassess their disaster plan.

“We had some very good things that in [Tropical Storm] Irene we learned and we were able to apply in [snow storm] Alfred and hopefully we have things we can apply going forward,” said Sheila Kempf, senior vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer.

The hospital has started surveying department heads about what went right, what went wrong and what can be improved based on the events of that week. Kempf said after managers have listed their observations, administrators will evaluate how to adjust their disaster plan.

Throughout that week, the hospital admitted 21 patients who had lost power at their homes and could not properly care for themselves without it.

Dr. Leonard Banco, chief medical officer, said it was mostly people who “needed power to power their oxygen or other types of medical equipment.”

Kempf said many people did not bring their medication with them to the hospital, which required the hospital to admit them in order to keep them on the proper medication.

The hospital had to open an extra wing to house the sudden influx of patients.

“They essentially lived there until they got power in their homes,” Banco said.

In addition, many patients who were ready to be discharged had to stay at the hospital longer because the roads were unsafe or their house was without power.

“If we only need to take care of patients who were victims of the storm we would have been fine,” said Kempf, adding, “I would have plans in place to accommodate those kinds of people.”

Kempf said another issue was the lack of cell phone service because cell towers were down. It took time to get every staff member a beeper because administrators had to compile a list to make sure everyone had one.

“I would make sure the beeper list was predetermined,” she said.

During the week following Alfred, the hospital saw an increase in traffic of 15 to 20 percent in its emergency department.

Twenty-five people came in during the week because they were concerned they might have carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be caused by indoor space heaters or if an outdoor generator’s exhaust is too close to a home.

Of those 25, three were admitted to the hospital. One had to be transferred to another hospital that has a hyperbaric chamber, which is a large chamber that increases pressure to force oxygen into the body.

Throughout the storm the hospital was lucky enough to never lose power.

“I think a lot of people just wandered into the emergency room because they needed somewhere to go,” Banco said.

Others came in because they needed basic medical care but did not have the proper resources to take care of it at home because of lack of power.

There was also an increase in emergency visits because of injuries from clearing out trees and brush as well as snowblowing. Banco said that is typical for any storm.

Throughout the week the hospital required 10 to 15 percent extra staff. The hospital is working on compiling the total extra costs from that week to see if it can be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In addition to having to pay more staff, the hospital lost revenue because certain procedures could not be done during the week. The operating room had to be closed for a day and a half because a device that controls humidity was knocked out and the humidity was not balanced enough to perform surgeries.

Banco said while the storm revealed that adjustments in procedures are needed, officials are pleased with how well the hospital responded.

“These were of course all unanticipated events,” Banco said. “I think people here did incredibly well.”

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