UHealth Cares for Patients, Employees and Families During Frightening Hurricane

First there was the impromptu birthday party for three children who had to stay at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute during Hurricane Irma because their parents were taking care of patients or working to keep things running throughout the University of Miami Health System.

Then there was the awarding of a diploma to every employee and family member who survived the hurricane sleeping in the hallways of Bascom Palmer.

The goal of these moments, and of the hard work of teams of nurses, administrators, security, facilities, food service and IT staff, was to keep families safe and ease their anxieties as much as possible as the storm approached and then lingered for what seemed like forever over South Florida.

“I made the rounds every day, and apologized for the conditions,” said Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., chair of ophthalmology and director of Bascom Palmer. “But everyone said, ‘Dr. Alfonso, we are so appreciative that we were able to stay here.’”

“I think it was pretty amazing actually,” said Michael Kelley, who organized the shelter team. “One of our early messages about opening our temporary shelter was to bring a good attitude and a sense of humor – of all the things people brought, they definitely brought those things. The success of our shelter operations was related to the demeanor of our guests, as well as some truly outstanding support staff.”

A perfect example was Dennis Golbourne, who usually works in medical IT but who spent the storm helping the 350 to 400 people who were camped out, trying to calm their fears. “Every person who left Bascom Palmer at the end of the shelter operations knew Dennis, loved Dennis and hugged Dennis,” Kelley said. “Many of us continued to do an accelerated version of our day job – he was completely outside his responsibilities.”

Bascom opened right after the storm for emergencies, and by 8 a.m. Monday three emergency surgeries had been performed. “We’re working with the Florida Society of Ophthalmology and other relief groups that are sending patients here,” Alfonso said. “A lot of private offices don’t have power yet or the doctors haven’t been able to make it to the office, so they’re putting up signs telling patients to go to Bascom Palmer.”

During the storm University of Miami Hospital hosted a full house of about 1,400 people: 333 patients, 105 doctors, more than 950 staff and family members – and 68 pets. Extensive, detailed planning by the leadership team ensured that physician leaders in every area had arranged appropriate coverage for a disaster, backup power was ready, procedures to attend to every patient were clear, and physicians and staff were ready to discharge patients when that became possible – and begin admitting the expected rush of new patients.

“Our number one goal of course is assuring the safety of our patients,” said Tanira Ferreira, M.D., chief medical officer of UMH. “Goal number two was making sure doctors and staff would be here. Once we went into storm mode, we had a plan for every situation.”

The hospital was on lockdown during the storm, but never skipped a beat, keeping most care services running. A command center led by Kymberlee J. Manni, Ph.D., chief operating officer at UMH, was fully aware of what was happening in the building at all times.

“I’m so proud of our team,” Ferreira said. “The patients were receiving physical therapy during the storm, and there was no shortage of labs, pharmacy, blood products or testing in general. At one point we even had to set up an urgent care center in the ED because a few family members got sick.”

And once the emergency department reopened, 180 patients came on Monday. The flow has been constant this week, and physicians have been working with case management, pharmacy, home health care and other areas to discharge the patients who are ready.

W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., chief medical officer of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, is gratified that Sylvester/UMHC was able to keep providing chemotherapy, radiation, imaging and stem cell transplant services on the Thursday before the storm, and then gear up rapidly soon after it passed. Timing of treatment is critically important for many cancer patients.

“The bottom line to me was that it was really terrific for our patients that we were able to stay open and not transfer them to another setting – particularly the stem cell transplant patients who are comfortable with their families in our unit,” Goodwin said. “The nurses were absolutely spectacular,” as were the 13 physicians in house, the facilities staff, the food contractor and other teams.

“It was just terrific teamwork,” Goodwin said. “It was also very helpful to us that we had the cascade of phone calls and meetings, starting with the University, then the medical school, and then Sylvester’s meeting. We were able to stay connected and keep everyone who needed to be in the know involved.

“During the storm we met every day between 2 and 4 o’clock, including all of the managers and all of our doctors in house, and it was just a great way to communicate where we were and how things were going.”

The power of teamwork is a theme that comes up again and again when leaders and employees discuss preparation, safety, and successful performance during a hurricane. Joanne Martin, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Bascom Palmer, praised the nursing and medical teams in the emergency department and fifth-floor units for maintaining excellent patient care, health system leadership for their support, visits and availability, the facilities and security teams for their invaluable work, and many other colleagues for serving patients and co-workers during a challenging time.

“Overall it was a great experience in teamwork,” Martin said. “We received innumerable compliments from all the people who stayed in the hospital, and we’re very appreciative of everyone’s help.”

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