“I’m anxious about my home, but I can’t keep that as a focus because there are four patients who need me right now,” Haley Hunter said as she stood at a nurse’s station on the second floor of Aiken Regional writing patient updates on paper – records that she typically logs via computer. “That’s why we do what we do as nurses. It’s not an option. You just do it.”
Until this storm, Tidelands Health had never evacuated patients to other areas because of a hurricane. The threat from Hurricane Florence – which at times has been a powerful Category 4 storm as it swirled in the Atlantic Ocean – prompted Gov. Henry McMaster to issue medical evacuations for hospitals along the South Carolina coast, including Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital and Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital. About 100 Tidelands Health patients were transferred to hospitals in outside the storm’s path, including Aiken Regional Medical Centers and Greenville Memorial Hospital, among others.
Tidelands Health nurses evacuated with patients to Aiken Regional, Greenville Memorial and Carolinas Health System in Florence.
Back at home, the health system temporarily suspended emergency care from Friday afternoon until 10 a.m. on Saturday
Coordinating the logistics of the move was no easy task — getting rooms for patients, lining up nurses, learning systems at a different hospital and handing off patient information to the doctors who would take over their care. And Jonella’s cell phone has been going off non-stop with questions.
“It’s just been all hands on deck,” Jonella said by phone as she stood in an Aiken drug store buying drops to soothe her tired eyes Wednesday night after getting all the patients moved into their rooms at Aiken Regional. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind since about 2 o’clock today.”
The South Carolina Hospital Association helped coordinate the rooms in inland hospitals to accommodate the evacuated patients. In Aiken, a newly renovated rehabilitation unit has temporarily become a “Tidelands Waccamaw wing” of sorts, as the Aiken hospital was able to cluster all the evacuated patients in the same area on the second floor, with the nurses sleeping nearby in empty rooms.
The Tidelands team worked closely with the hospitals accepting the evacuated patients to streamline care as much as possible. In Aiken, Tidelands Health nurses had to get ID badges, undergo the required respiratory fit test, learn Aiken’s systems and get used to the paperwork instead of inputting records in the computer. Even the tones for bed alarms are a bit different, another new system the nurses have quickly adjusted to.
“Anywhere new is hard and different and stressful, and you are away from home,” Nancy said. “The Aiken Regional staff members here have been exceptional. They have helped us so much and been very accommodating.”
All the uncertainties have been the biggest challenges.
“Just like Florence has been dancing out there in the ocean, we’ve been dancing right along with her,” Jonella said.