The record-breaking tornadoes that struck the Miami Valley on Memorial Day night led to record-breaking patient volumes at some area emergency departments.
Grandview Medical Center in Dayton had a record ER patient volume, and Miami Valley Hospital North in Englewood also had a record-breaking number of patients.
The influx of 420 injured patients and counting at area emergency rooms in the days following the tornadoes underlined the importance of the training the hospitals do to prepare for any scenario.
While the hospitals had prepared for the possibility of injuries related to a May 25 hate group rally in downtown Dayton, which ended peacefully, the Memorial Day storm damage was unpredictable.
“As you know, we were very ready for the rally over the weekend, and this one was a surprise,” Dr. Nancy Pook, medical director for the Kettering Health Network’s operations command center.
Grandview’s emergency department saw 268 patients on May 27, which is 20 percent more than the year prior and the most ever seen on that day since the hospital has kept record.
Both of the major hospital networks in the area, Premier Health and Kettering Health Network, set up command centers to deploy resources and coordinate in the wake of the disaster.
When an influx of patients reaches a disaster level, Premier Health hospitals will declare what’s called a code yellow, and the hospital sets up a central command center to coordinate its response, which is what happened during the tornadoes, said Dr. Randy Marriott, chair of the emergency management committee at Premier Health. The command center was in place still this week until Tuesday, Marriott said.
“We’ll coordinate our response from that hub … At that point, everything done in the hospital is for the most part being monitored by that command center,” Marriott said.
The command center had to coordinate not just the response to the influx of patients but also coordinate operations under a boil water advisory. Marriott said that meant making sure that the hospital had plenty of bottled water and was conserving supplies the best that it could, he said.
“That was a bigger issue in many respects than the victims coming in themselves,” Marriott said.
Kettering Health Network’s Huber Heights emergency department faced problems after winds lifted a server off the ground.
Pook said this meant that their electronic medical records were down, so everything had to go to paper. A radiologist rushed to Huber Heights because the scans couldn’t be sent off site to be read and needed to be read in Huber. Pook said with the server out they also couldn’t use their phones, which have a digital format, so they had to quickly find a work-around.
“There was an office in the facility that had old copper wire phones, so they were able to patch that,” Pook said.
Pook said the staff came together in an amazing way to work around the problems, and within just over 24 hours, the IT problems were patched and remedied.
“I have to give a lot of kudos all around,” Pook said.
Pook said in the immediate aftermath of the storms, they saw patients with injuries like lacerations and head wounds sustained from the storms as well as patients that use medical equipment like oxygen machines but didn’t have electricity in their homes.
“When you have medical needs such as oxygen and you don’t have electricity, that is an acute need for you,” Pook said.
In the following days, hospitals continued to see patients with medical problems from the aftermath, like muscle injuries or lacerations patients sustained while cleaning debris or carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.
There were two Miami Valley patients still admitted from injuries sustained from the initial tornado damage as of Thursday afternoon.
Extra staff had to be called in to hospitals and workers who were already there stayed late. There were also hospital employees themselves who were affected by the storms and were not able to come into work. A Miami Valley Hospital spokeswoman said hundreds of their employees were impacted by the storms.
Since EMS workers were constantly working in the aftermath of the storms, Miami Valley let them come in and shower and offered them grab-and-go food, said Marriott.
It takes continuous training for local emergency departments to be ready for all the unpredictable scenarios that can happen. Area hospitals regularly do disaster drills and coordinate with other agencies on regional emergency preparedness, because while this time the emergency might be tornadoes, Pook said the next time it could be some other type of disaster like an environmental problem.
“We have to be ready at every level,” Pook said.
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