Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Unruffled Nurses Help Patients Weather Hurricane Ike

September 25, 2008

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On the Medical Intensive Care and Cardiac Care Units, 17 critically ill patients were carefully moved during the hurricane to the windowless Post-Anesthesia Care Unit during the night. From left, Charles Lee, M.D., resident; Leroy Beck, R.N., Nursing Unit 3C nurse manager; Ayleamma George, R.N., Cardiac Care Unit staff nurse; and Lucy Lacy, R.N., Catheterization Laboratory nurse manager. PHOTO: Bobbi Gruner, MEDVAMC Public Affairs Officer

 

HOUSTON - When Hurricane Ike unleashed 100 mile an hour winds that tore rooftops from homes and trees out of the ground, nurses throughout the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) used their skill, creativity, and experience to make sure their patients remained calm and comfortable.

“Our nurses are probably some of the most experienced health care professionals in the field when it comes to being prepared for crisis situations,” said Thelma Gray-Becknell, R.N., M.S.N., MEDVAMC chief nurse executive. “In the last few years, they have gained a great deal of first-hand knowledge.”

After Hurricane Rita three years ago, nurses suggested additional hurricane power plugs be installed in the hallways so patient beds could be quickly and safely wheeled out of rooms with vulnerable windows.

On the Spinal Cord Injury Unit, Nurse Manager Rosetta Thompson, R.N. used her 43 years of nursing experience to guide her staff and move all 40 patients out of harm’s way. The youngest patient was a 23-year-old veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the oldest, an 81 year old, World War II veteran.

“We practiced and talked about such a situation so many times during our disaster drills that it was second nature and went just as we planned; quickly, quietly, safely, and calmly,” said Thompson. “As always, our first priority is the well-being of our veterans.”

In preparation for Hurricane Ike, the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) transferred critical care patients and patients on ventilators away from windows in anticipation of breakage. Adoracion Yap, R.N., Surgical Intensive Care Unit nurse manager, made sure the red outlets in the hallway outside the SICU were checked for readiness and each patient was assigned a electrical plug in case of emergency evacuation.

On the eve of the hurricane, the MEDVAMC performed an orthotopic liver transplantation on Thomas Franklin, a 59 year-old, U.S. Army veteran from Missouri.  After surgery, he was placed in SICU for recovery. At about 2 a.m. on Saturday, the MEDVAMC lost commercial power and backup generators kicked in to provide electricity for medical equipment. While coolers keep the air in the Intensive Care Units comfortable for patients, Yap took extra precautions and moved six patients including Franklin to operating rooms with a constant 68 degree environment.

“Hurricane or not, we are always ready for whoever is coming to our unit,” said Yap. “We were able to provide uninterrupted, exceptional patient care in midst of a hurricane because of the dedication, commitment, hard work, and teamwork of my SICU staff along with the collaborative effort of interdisciplinary team members, most especially the housekeeping, respiratory therapist, and the strong support of the senior management.”

At about 4 a.m. in the morning, the Oncology and Hematology Unit nursing staff heard a loud noise in one of the patient’s rooms and rushed to find the source. The floor was wet and the drapes were blowing through a hole in the window. The nurse, who had been sitting with the patient, quickly moved him to the hallway and continued to comfort him. Facilities Management personnel were on standby and swiftly boarded up the window.

“We found out later that a satellite dish from the roof of the hospital blew off and crashed into the window,” said Irma Vives, NU-4B Oncology and Hematology Unit nurse manager. “I am very proud of the quick and calm response my nursing staff had to this incident.”

On the Medical Intensive Care and Cardiac Care Units, 17 critically ill patients were carefully moved to the windowless Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) during the night.  Of this group, eight patients were dependent on life-giving ventilators. Each patient was accompanied by a team of nurses, physicians, residents, technicians, and housekeepers to ensure the transition went smoothly.

“We did not lose power except for a fraction of a second, there was a blink and we were quickly on emergency power,” said Loretta Tumanga, R.N., Cardiac Care Unit nurse manager. “However; if we had lost power, my staff was right there ready to assist our critically ill patients, just like we have planned and practiced.”

The MEDVAMC routinely conducts emergency management exercises to test systems and policies in order to be better prepared for the next disaster. In 2005, the MEDVAMC Patient Reception Team medically triaged almost 800 victims of Hurricane Katrina. The patients, ranging from a 4-month-old to the very elderly, suffered from, at the very least, dehydration and fatigue to obstetric emergencies, heart attacks, infections, and strokes.

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