Vidant Health operating around the clock in all areas affected by Florence
By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector
Friday, September 21, 2018
Hurricane Florence has not prevented Vidant Health physicians and staff from providing medical care and services to people in 29 eastern North Carolina counties during and after Hurricane Florence, according to the president of the system’s flagship hospital in Greenville.
“Vidant Medical Center did not have a disruption in service and all of our system hospitals remain fully operational, even Outer Banks Hospital,” Brian Floyd, medical center president, said. “As the region’s No. 1 tertiary care and Level-1 trauma center, we have had patients brought here from lots of places affected by Florence; some by Coast Guard or Army helicopters and other flown in by our East Care helicopter team.”
Vidant Medical Center in Greenville remained near capacity (90 percent or more of beds occupied, or no fewer than 730 patients) during Florence’s occupation, Floyd said.
“Vidant Health, having experienced many of these situations before, has learned a lot of lessons and is better prepared for an event like this,” he said.
Anticipating the possibility it could be cut off from all supply lines, Vidant officials brought in 10 days of operational supplies, including pharmaceuticals and blood, Floyd said.
In one night, more than 400 staff reported to work and stayed overnight to be ready for all contingencies, he said. Payroll was advanced a day so employees could access funds to prepare for the storm.
“We basically operated a hotel since this started, probably the biggest one in Greenville, so we could know the staff were here if needed. All of our system hospitals had that level of preparedness; over-prepared, probably.” Floyd said.
In anticipation of Florence, clinics were closed a day ahead and elective surgeries were postponed in order to reduce patient volume in the hospital and be ready to handle a surplus of patients who might need attention during a weather emergency, he said.
“In circumstances like this, in addition to the likelihood of having more patients, we also can’t get patients discharged and home, either, because of the difficulty or because they might not have a place to return to,” Floyd said. “It can get very busy.”
Vidant brought in an extra helicopter to assure adequate flight coverage if needed during the weather emergency, bringing the total to six. The fleet and land-based ambulances were moved out to various locations in the region in anticipation of sudden needs in damaged or flooded areas, Floyd said.
Vidant created a centralized command and control operation model, ridding itself of bureaucratic fragmentation issues, he said. The command structure brought all resources and decision-making components together and in constant communication systemwide, including all information technology systems and public communications at the local, county, state and federal levels, with each hospital in the system serving as a local hub, with Greenville as the overall coordination platform.
“At all times, if any one person in any of the centers needed to talk about the situation there, all people at all points were part of that conversation,” he said. “It was like having one big hospital spread among eight locations.”
While the site of the former Vidant Pungo Hospital was flooded by Florence, Vidant’s 24-hour multispecialty clinic in Belhaven did not flood and stayed in operation during the storm, Floyd said. Although it does not have a surgical center or emergency department, it remained an available staging site for EMS personnel while the community experienced severe flooding and power outages.
The Vidant system also remained in communication with all other hospitals in the state, keeping the medical community aware of the conditions at any individual hospital, he said.
“All the emergency rooms in the system were busy, but none were overwhelmed,” Floyd said. “Some clinics located in flooded areas are still affected by Florence. The most disrupted Vidant hospital has been Duplin, with flooding still a tremendous problem there. They are still on generator power, and the Army Corps of Engineers brought up another generator yesterday when we told them we needed extra redundant resources for the hospital.
“The question of when to close a hospital comes up, but we kept it open because at the end of the day, that is the place most relied on,” he said.
Patients at Duplin were sheltered in place because of the dangers connected with evacuating fragile patients at such a time, Floyd said. Instead, Vidant relied on FEMA, Coast Guard and Army resources, who were on hand in case of power supply issues, he said.
More than 130 hospital staff have been staying at the hospital for the last four days, with extra staff flown in from other hospitals, he said. Patients can be transported from Duplin by air to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville if necessary.
Floyd thanked all Vidant employees for their dedication to their patients.
“I have truly seen the best in people showing up here, willing to put their own needs aside to ask how they can help others,” he said. “They are heroic people, many living in distressed places now, from surgeons to housekeepers, all knowing they have a role to play in keeping the engine going. I know that we and the people of eastern North Carolina who know this is their health system want to say, ‘Thank you,’ to them for being so present to take care of them.”
Contact Michael Abramowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9507.
Speak to a doctor
Vidant Health patients who might have become isolated during Hurricane Florence can access the Vidant Now system, hospital spokeswoman Erica Mizelle said. It allows patients to speak with a doctor and have a virtual non-emergency medical visit anytime, anywhere 24/7 via secure online video or phone app.
Virtual care, powered by “MDLive” doctors who are board-certified in family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine and pediatrics, can diagnose, recommend treatment and prescribe medication, Mizelle said.
“It eliminates the need to travel and brings the care to the patient,” she said.
Among the many treatable medical conditions are acne; allergies; coughs and sore throats, constipation and diarrhea; ear problems; flu; headaches; respiratory problems; fever; pink eye; nausea and vomiting; and vaginitis
The cost of a visit is $49 or less, depending on insurance coverage, which is much less than a trip to the ER in the middle of the night and more convenient, Mizelle said. For more information, visit online at www.vidantnow.com/vidanthealth.