Health care professionals are used to handling emergencies. They’re trained and prepared to deal with the unexpected, all while taking care of patients and keeping them safe.
And that’s just what the team at Tidelands Health did this week during the historic rains that drenched and damaged the South Carolina coast. Only this time, in addition to caring for patients, the team members at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital and Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital also went above and beyond to take care of one another.
“Patient care didn’t miss a beat,” said Pam Maxwell, the organization’s senior vice president and chief nursing officer. “Patients would not have even known anything extraordinary was going on. Staff members stepped up and worked extra shifts and improvised when they needed to. They did an outstanding job caring for patients and looking out for one another.”
In some cases, staff drove through flooded streets to pick up their colleagues, who sometimes waded through knee-deep water to reach the vehicles. Bob Pender, director of 2 Parrish at Tidelands Georgetown, accompanied by Tracie Horry, director of the nursing resource team/administrative supervision, drove his truck several miles through high water to the McDonald community to pick up a nurse who was stranded, as well as to check on another nurse.
“I’ve never seen water like this before,” Horry said. “We passed kayakers and saw cars and houses that were seriously flooded. Seeing the devastation of the high flood levels in the local community opened my eyes more to the impact this would have on people’s lives forever.”
Sheila Locklair, director of the critical care unit at Tidelands Georgetown, drove in nearly a foot of water from her home a few miles south of Georgetown to Highway 17. When she saw water covering the southbound lanes, she drove south in the northbound lane for about a quarter mile to reach a fellow nurse.
“It’s miraculous that we made it,” Locklair said.
Elsewhere at Tidelands Georgetown, Nira Daleda, clinical director of women’s services, arrived at the hospital at 1:30 p.m. Sunday and was still working Monday to be sure her team members had everything they needed.
At Tidelands Waccamaw, emergency department nurse Deborah Gainey “picked up a stranger” and met a new colleague in the Walmart parking lot in Conway. Gainey, who was scheduled to work Monday, called the hospital on Sunday to say she would come in Sunday to ensure that she was at work for her Monday shift. About the same time, Ken Calagsing, a nurse on 3 West who lives in Conway, was calling to say he was stranded after his car stalled in high water. Some quick thinking on the part of the nursing supervisor put the two in touch with each other.
Said Gainey: “I had my father-in-law’s truck and was told to pick up this guy who could make it to Walmart. I drove up and he flashed his Tidelands Health badge. I took a leap of faith and figured he was legitimate,” she laughs.
Ashley Capps, director of the critical care unit at Tidelands Waccamaw, bought toiletries and snacks for the staff on her floor.
“I wanted to be sure the staff on our unit was taken care of,” Capps said. "Several night shift staff and even a nurse from the next day’s shift came in early to be here be here for our patients. I wanted to be sure they had toothpaste, toothbrushes, snacks, and chocolate to keep them going and keep their spirits up in case they couldn’t get to the cafeteria. Our patients really need us, and we had to be staffed and ready to work.”
At Tidelands Georgetown, ED clinical director Wendi Kobylarz said several staff members left flooded homes to come to work.
“All day, ED staff members were taking care of patients and calling co-workers to see if they were OK,” Kobylarz said. “They really went above and beyond, and I am so proud of them for selflessly putting our patients first.”
Food and nutrition services workers at both hospitals prepared sandwiches, meals, and snacks for staff who sheltered overnight. And members of the plant services team worked around the clock to deal with facility issues caused by the downpour.
Patrick Devlin, director of safety and security for Tidelands Health, said the health system weathered the storms thanks to preparation, planning, and a dedicated staff.
“It was a matter of activating our emergency management plans and staying in close contact with the emergency operations team at the county level,” Devlin said. “I can’t say enough about our team, as well as the outstanding county employees and first responders who worked alongside us.”
Bruce Bailey, Tidelands Health’s president and CEO, is proud of the unwavering commitment of the entire Tidelands Health team.
“In a situation such as this, you really see what people are made of,” Bailey said. “I am deeply proud of our employee, physician, and volunteer partners for their grit and courage and for their unwavering commitment to our patients and to one another. I would put them up against any health care team in the country.”