HUP-staffLong before Sandy’s hurricane-force winds and pounding rains descended on our area, HUP’s emergency preparedness team was making the necessary preparations to keep the hospital running and our patients safe. 

By 5 am Monday morning, HUP’s command center was open and ready to field phone calls and inquiries, and provide guidance as conditions deteriorated.  The first major impact: SEPTA’s decision to cancel operations. Employees who came to work for the late shift on Sunday couldn’t get home and many day-shift employees had no way to get in.  Calls flooded the command center, requesting a ride in or asking about available parking.  Security took the lead, bringing in over 80 staff members. “John Kirby [of Administration] used his own car to pick up many staff and transport them to the hospital,” said Security director Joe Forte. “In addition, we made an emergency drug delivery to Penn Medicine Radnor.”

Parking  -- always an issue -– became critical on Monday.  Penn Tower garage filled up quickly and while some staff were able to park at Perelman (leaving room for patients), the demand quickly threatened to overwhelm the supply of spaces.   Luckily, the University had closed for all but essential staff.  Forte worked with Jim Atkinson, Penn Medicine chief of Security and Parking, to put the overflow in University lots and garages.

As transportation options dwindled – SEPTA and PATCO had both been shut down – requests for sleep accommodations increased. Tonita Bell-Chapman and The Admissions Center (TAC) swung into action. “The job seemed insurmountable but the Center's staff has  crafted a process that makes it seem effortless,” said Bernard Dyer, director of UPHS Safety and Management.  Staff got in line and received a sleep location assignment, a food voucher, and linens and scrubs.  “It was as orderly as the deli line at a supermarket,” he continued.  “The only thing missing was the ticket number dispenser!”  In the end TAC filled over 500 requests.

Support departments had extra staff on hand -– many volunteering for double shifts -- to make sure that the hospital continued to function, no matter what the impact from Sandy.  "We were fully staffed around the clock -- electricians, plumbers, general mechanics ... all trades -- to make sure we were covered," said Chuck Aitken, assistant executive hospital director.  On leak patrols, "we found and fixed leaks in places that had never leaked before, because of the high winds." Aitken also made sure the emergency generator contractor and the elevator vendor stayed overnight “just in case.”  L.F. Driscoll workers came and stayed, to do whatever might be needed. 

Food Services handled over 700 food vouchers for staff during Monday night alone.  Larry McCook, director of Patient Transport, said that many of his staff braved the elements to come in.  For example, “Richard Watson walked over two miles through the storm to get to work when he couldn’t find a ride and then spent the night so he could begin working bright and early on Tuesday.”

Staff in patient care units went out of their way to ensure uninterrupted care and patient safety. Many worked back-to-back shifts so those who lived farther away could stay home.  Those living in the city opened their homes to colleagues so they could safely return to HUP the next day. The Heart and Vascular ICU used technology to ensure sufficient staffing, posting scheduling messages and responses on its locked Facebook account, starting Saturday evening. 

As a result of the extensive preparations, HUP made it through with no significant disruptions of services. Indeed, not even this weather emergency could stop both a heart and a liver transplant from being performed. (See Sandy Doesn't Stop Transplants.)

“HUP physicians, nurses, and staff took on this emergency with the quiet confidence and skill that can only come from dedication to others,” said executive director Garry Scheib. “My heartfelt thanks for going above and beyond to help our patients and one another.”

“The response  was incredible,” agreed Dyer. “People step up.…they want to help. It demonstrates why HUP is such a special place.”

Photo caption: A converted conference room on Rhoads 6 became comfy sleepover quarters for the staff.