Hospitals beat snow to serve patients Md. facilities working with volunteers to move workers and the sick

Blizzard Of 1996

January 09, 1996|By Diana K. Sugg and Jonathan Bor | Diana K. Sugg and Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF Staff writer David Folkenflik contributed to this article.

With buzzing command centers orchestrating everything from the pickup of hundreds of doctors and nurses to conserving bed linens, hospitals moved quickly over the weekend to cope with weather-related injuries and a host of logistical problems.

Despite the cancellation of elective surgeries and outpatient appointments, patients were still making it to hospitals. Those who needed to come in -- for chemotherapy or radiation -- were transported by volunteers. One couple walked from the Towson Mall area to Greater Baltimore Medical Center for an in-vitro fertilization procedure that had to be done yesterday.

By about noon yesterday, emergency rooms started to fill up with patients.

Many people with diabetes, seizures and other chronic illnesses apparently tried to hold out over the weekend, but got so sick they had to call 911. Other people suffered weather-related injuries. Some people using snow blowers almost had their fingers cut off, and others developed chest pains while struggling to shovel snow.

One man was hit over the head with a shovel during a fight, reported Dr. Michael Rolnick at the University of Maryland Medical Center's emergency room.

One woman even walked at least a half mile through the storm Sunday to the center's s emergency room so she could be treated for a non-emergency, a plantar wart, Dr. Rolnick said. He predicted today will be even busier.

The emergency room at Sinai Hospital treated a case of hypothermia, a confused woman who was discovered on the street wearing nothing above her waist but a T-shirt. Her body temperature had sunk to 84 degrees, a dangerously low level that can cause fatal heartbeat irregularities. Doctors raised her temperature with blankets and warm intravenous fluids.

At Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where the labor and

delivery unit saw an increase in births Sunday, nurses joked that the drop in barometric pressure caused by the storm made women's water break, said Barbara Radolec, the unit's charge nurse.

By Sunday, hospitals' disaster plans were in high-gear.

Nurses walked miles through snow to reach a location where four-wheel-drive vehicles could pick them up. Hundreds of doctors, nurses and other staff who couldn't get home and were needed the next day spent the night at the hospitals -- either in patient rooms, offices, or sometimes, the hallways.

"We're finding every nook and cranny within our own institution," said Howard Gwon, administrator of psychiatry services at Johns Hopkins Hospital and also the disaster control coordinator. More than 300 doctors and nurses spent the night at the hospital Sunday night, and more were expected to sleep there last night.

"Crises bring the best out of this place."

Sinai Hospital was run by half the usual staff who worked long shifts, getting by on a few hours of sleep. Many were transported to work by an armada of four-wheel-drive vehicles driven by security officers, National Guard reservists and volunteers.

Like many other hospitals, to bring employees to work, Sinai staff set up a virtual war room in a cramped office. Three security officers sat before a blackboard filled with scribbled addresses of workers who were waiting at home for rides. Off to one side hung a complete street map of Baltimore.

Amid the chaos of telephones and two-way radios, a smooth operation was under way. Yesterday, the fleet was well on its way toward matching, if not exceeding, the 150 pickups done on Sunday.

Meanwhile, some patients due to be discharged couldn't be because they had no way home. It wasn't clear if insurance would cover the extra days.

Many workers seemed proud of their efforts. Lynn Jarrett, a worker at the University of Maryland hospital who slept on a mattress on her office floor, summed it up: "Our patients showed up at the door today, and we were there."

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