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MUSC Health prepares for possible brush with Hurricane Irma

Last year, Hurricane Matthew caused flooding and wind damage. Could Irma be worse?

flooding at MUSC
Getting around the Medical University of South Carolina campus during and right after Hurricane Matthew required rain boots, a change of clothes and plenty of determination.
Staff Report | | September 7, 2017

With meteorologists plotting multiple possible tracks of Hurricane Irma, Matt Wain has a one-track mind – enabling MUSC Health to provide 96 hours of sustained operations as if it were an island – literally – seamlessly taking care of patients.

Generally, Wain is seen as the chief operating officer for MUSC Health. With an impending hurricane, his title shifts to incident commander as he coordinates the emergency response for the hospital and runs a command center.

“MUSC Health has to be prepared. We’re getting water tankers, fuel tankers, extra supplies, extra medications,” he said, adding that he’s coordinating with state and local officials to ensure the hospital is as prepared to handle the emergency as can be. That means keeping employees safe while ensuring staffing levels are adequate throughout the emergency.

Matt Wain is coordinating emergency response in the days leading up to the projected arrival of Hurricane Irma.

But first and foremost, the goal is to ensure patients and families are as safe as possible, he said. That job already has started.

Clinics are open with extended hours today and Friday for patients who need to get care before the storm and other efforts are underway to help people who are especially vulnerable at a time like this.

“That involves everything from calling dialysis and ventilator home patients and reminding them to make sure their batteries are checked, to working with other facilities that can’t evacuate patients and need intensive-level care that MUSC Health can uniquely provide during the storm,” he said.

“Organizationally, we want to share information and continue to let the campus know we’re providing a vital service to the community, and we’re as ready as can be to do that.”

That means in some cases, moving patients out of critical areas, such as the neonatal intensive care unit. NICU babies are being moved to a more secure location, away from windows.

In other parts of the hospital, staff members are setting up rest and relaxation activities, including a movie room and clinic space that is being turned into “hotel space.”

There will be full emergency and trauma services running for patients who need them. During the storm, however, those services can be hard to get to. “I wish the public would recognize that MUSC is here if they need us, but I hope they will evacuate and take care of themselves and their families,” Wain said.

Kathy Lehman-Huskamp 
Dr. Kathy Lehman-Huskamp 

Kathy Lehman-Huskamp, M.D., director of emergency management at MUSC, agreed, saying the best approach for medical emergencies is the proactive one, which is to evacuate.

“For those with pre-existing medical conditions or who depend on electricity or dialysis for life sustainment, evacuating to an area that has a hospital is even more critical,” she said. “For those who chose to stay, the area's first responders will be sheltering in place along with the 911 Dispatch Center. With a medical emergency, one should call 911. Responders will be dispatched. However, flooding, high winds, fallen trees, et cetera, may delay how quickly a team of first responders could arrive at an emergency.” 

Executive chief nursing and patient experience officer Jerry Mansfield said the dedication of employees during this time of uncertainty inspires him. "These caring, concerned staff, on top of their own personal situations, are now dividing themselves into Team A and Team B," he said. 

"Nurses on team A are the acute or primary response team, focused on saving lives and providing critical safe patient care. Nurses on team B serve as the recovery relief, to help restore essential patient care services for patients, families and the community."

When it comes to medication, the recommendation from MUSC Health leaders is that people pick up prescriptions and other medicine as soon as possible. The pharmacy services team has activated its standing disaster order with its wholesaler, administrator Heather Easterling, PharmD, said. "We want to ensure we have enough medications to meet the needs of our patients. Our retail pharmacies will extend hours this weekend to help facilitate discharges and help employees with their own medications."

Easterling said many insurance companies will allow early refills in this type of situation. "Please remember to bring your medications with you if you have to evacuate," she said. "For employees, please remember to bring all medications with you to work in case you are required to stay for the storm. You may also want to bring some over-the-counter items like Tylenol, ibuprofen, Tums and Benadryl." 

MUSC Food and Nutrition general manager Brad Masteller said his team is ready, too. "We are ordering enough food and supplies to carry us through six to eight days, and everything will be in house Friday," he said. "Our 'A team' will be here through the duration of the storm, serving patients as normal, and employees until midnight. Our staff has been through this the last two Octobers and I couldn’t be prouder of how they pulled together and kept everyone well fed and happy."

Emergencies such as these tend to pull everyone together, Wain said. It’s the thing he enjoys most about his role as incident commander.

“I like how people come together in a crisis and historically, events like this demonstrate the best of MUSC. There are so many people who say, ‘What do you need me to do?’ or 'What else do you need?' I have so many faculty and staff who say, ‘I know what my day job is, what else do you need?' It’s incredibly refreshing to see people just come together in a moment of crisis and simply want to take care of people, whether that be patients and families or colleagues.”

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