Andy Roberts stands by the tightly packed, reinforced sand wall protecting the key components that power Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital.
The director of facilities management says the 4-foot-high wall – painstakingly but hurriedly built in a day under the direction and dedication of the National Guard – will protect the chillers, boilers and other systems that keep the hospital running. Simply put, the floodwaters are going to have to fight to make their way in here.
“This is what runs the hospital,” Andy said. “We knew that we had to protect this.”
Record-high floodwaters that have been swallowing houses and spilling across major highways and rural roads in Horry County are headed for Georgetown. With an eye on the ever-changing forecasts for the flooding, crews worked feverishly in recent days to make sure Tidelands Georgetown could not only withstand the floodwaters but also not miss a beat in providing needed medical care to the community in the emergency department, which will stay open throughout the flood.
Crews strategically placed roughly 2,000 sandbags around buildings and transformers vulnerable to the rising waters. Portable toilets and shower trailers are set up in the hospital parking lot in case, as anticipated, floodwaters inundate a lift station and cut off sewer service to the hospital. If that happens, the emergency department has a plan to bag all waste, and the cafeteria has bins at the ready for cleaning dishes.
A section of the parking lot is marked off for an emergency transport helicopter to take off and land – its usual landing area will likely be underwater in a few days. Employee partners – along with precious items such as hospital photo albums and time capsule contents – have evacuated from low-lying buildings to safer locations. Andy rattles off the numerical elevations of these spots – key to knowing if potential floodwaters will reach them – like some folks rattle off their kids’ ages.
“We’re ready,” Andy said. “We’re definitely ready. I feel good about the things we’ve put in place.”
Preparations go way beyond just protecting the buildings and structures. There are extra supplies on hand for the emergency department, additional food to keep the cafeteria serving warm meals for up to two weeks and shelters arranged at area churches for physicians, nurses and other employee partners in case the floodwaters overtake the roads on their usual commute.
Leaders tried to think of every possible scenario that potential floodwaters could create and came up with a plan to keep the emergency department open despite whatever the floodwaters might bring.
Three warm meals a day
Most of the hospital’s services have been suspended. Inpatients were transferred earlier this week to Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital. But walk in the cafeteria at Tidelands Georgetown around lunchtime, and you’ll see cooks fixing a giant batch of green beans and smell the luring aroma of chicken for this day’s special menu item for employee partners: chicken tenders with mac and cheese.
The cafeteria is ready to serve employee partners three warm meals a day – comfort foods such as meatloaf and spaghetti intentionally put on the menu during these challenging times. There’s enough food to keep the cafeteria going for two weeks, with the chiller filled with food and extra pallets of bottled water and soda sitting somewhat out of place in a nearby hallway.
“We had to get a good amount of supplies in so we wouldn’t be stuck,” said Derrick Grove, food services manager at Tidelands Georgetown.
The cafeteria crew – some who’ve weathered a number of storms and floods during their 40 years working for the health system – are preparing and dishing out those meals with the same friendly smile as they would if there wasn’t a natural disaster headed their way.
“They were ready and ramped up,” Derrick said. “We really don’t have to twist their arm to stay. They understand right away.”
In case of emergency
The emergency department also ordered extra supplies and made plans to accommodate potential patients they wouldn’t normally see if the entire hospital was operational. Extra treatments for snake and insect bites are on hand in case there’s an uptick in patients with those bites because of floodwaters.
“We make sure we have the ability to respond to whatever comes in,” said Wendi Kobylarz, clinical director of the emergency department. With all preparations in place, the team in the emergency department enjoys pizza brought in by one of the doctors. Team members have done all they can to be ready.
“We are kind of at the mercy of the water,” Wendi said.
On the other side of the hospital, Beth Ward, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Tidelands Health, walks a hallway clutching a container of freshly baked, homemade chocolate chip cookies, a treat for the employee partners fielding phone calls and helping keep patient records.
Beth Ward, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Tidelands Health, at right, delivered a container of freshly baked, homemade chocolate chip cookies to Tidelands Health team members fielding phone calls and helping keep patient records.
“It’s my thank you,” Beth said. “It’s something I can do that is a little bit personal and lets staff know that you do care.”
The gesture prompted hugs for Beth from the team, including Cheryl Rhodes, a patient access supervisor who is ready to do whatever’s needed to help the hospital provide medical care during the next few days or weeks – however long the floodwaters decide to stick around.
“Well, we’re ready,” Cheryl said with enthusiasm. “We love what we do. We want to be here for the community.”
Down the hallway, Andy, the facilities management director, is about to call it a day. The last few days have been a blur, but now he feels good. He knows the Tidelands Health team has done all it can to be ready for the floodwaters to come.
“That’s really all we can do,” Andy said. “We have to allow what will happen to happen.”