News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 3, 2011

Wabash Valley hospitals use disaster plans to meet needs

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The week’s crippling winter storms prompted both Union and Terre Haute Regional hospitals to activate disaster plans Tuesday, ensuring that quality medical care for patients continues uninterrupted.

At both hospitals, dozens of employees stayed overnight to ensure adequate staffing.

“We have highly dedicated staff. They volunteer to do what is necessary to care for patients,” said Kristi Roshel, Union Hospital spokeswoman. Both Union Hospital Terre Haute and Clinton activated disaster plans.

At Union-Terre Haute, housekeeping staff prepared beds in several available spaces in Union West and Union East, where more than 60 employees stayed both Monday and Tuesday.

The hospital used patient rooms no longer in service, meetings rooms and unfinished space in the new Union East.

Some workers brought in their own sleeping bags and air mattresses and stayed in their respective departments.

As Roshel spoke during a telephone interview, a transformer blew outside the window of her hospital office and she saw a “bright blue light,” she said. “I still have power.”

When a disaster plan is activated, all employees from all locations and all departments, whether clinical or non-clinical, must contact their supervisor to report availability.

“We’ve had no problems with staffing,” Roshel said. “For the most part, employees have been able to make it in.”

One employee who stayed overnight was Jennifer Walker, a nurse in the labor room, part of Maternity Services. “We had four deliveries yesterday [Tuesday] and I wanted to spend the night so I would be able to be here for my 7 a.m. shift Wednesday. Our patients depend on us,” she said. “There were 12 other nurses from my area that also stayed and it was actually kind of fun, like a big slumber party. Our manager ordered us pizza from the cafeteria.”

On Wednesday, the cafeteria baked 219 pizzas delivered to staff in each department, and it planned to make more pizzas for the remaining two shifts.

While Union Hospital maintained services without disruption, it also closed most non-emergency and off-site services because of the weather.

The hospital also stayed in contact with other health care facilities. When Meadows Manor East nursing home had a power outage that affected its heating system, 50 of its patients were transferred to Union Tuesday evening, Roshel said.

Terre Haute Regional activated its disaster plan Tuesday morning. The plan is designed to ensure that patients continue to receive high quality care, despite the weather.

“We activated the plan to make sure that we have enough medical supplies, food and water to serve the needs of our patients. We have additional teams on site for safety,” said Brian Bauer, hospital chief executive officer.

The hospital began preparing for the storm on Monday. An inventory of medical supplies, equipment and food was completed and is being monitored closely.

Plans were also put in place for staff and family members to have accommodations during the storm. The hospital also is doing a shuttle service for patients and staff to and from their vehicles, and it is de-icing cars for those who need it. Salt crews have been on site 24 hours a day.

The hospital is prepared to keep all essential utilities operating.

“Key personnel have been in constant contact with the Vigo County EMA. Mindy Young, emergency preparedness coordinator for Regional Hospital, has been in contact with her counterpart at Union Hospital to work together during the severe weather,” Bauer said.

Regional Hospital staff have been meeting every four hours to review the situation and adjust the plan as needed.

Tuesday night there were 65 employees who stayed all night so that there would not be an interruption in care for Regional patients.

Both hospital emergency rooms, and Union in Clinton, were reporting a high number of patients with bone fractures related to the weather.

“The emergency room is swamped with people,” Roshel said. As of 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, the emergency room had 81 people, more than half with fractures due to falls in icy conditions.

“They want to get the word out,” Roshel said. People should not go outside if they don’t have to. People have been slipping and breaking bones while shoveling, cleaning cars and salting sidewalks.

Regional’s emergency room also has experienced an increased number of fractures in the past few days, the result of people falling on ice, said Beth Clark, hospital spokeswoman.

As a precaution because of the ice, Clark said she had to persuade a dedicated 88-year-old employee who works the front desk not to come in Tuesday or Wednesday.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or