For those of us working with the Health Emergency Management Division of Eastern Health, emergency planning is just part of our day-to-day operations. So on Friday, January 3, 2014, when Eastern Health’s Executive asked our department to join a pre-planning conference call in anticipation of excessive snowfall and possible power outages, we happily obliged.
The call connected our executive team with senior clinical leaders responsible for our acute and long-term care facilities and those providing the supports such as Infrastructure Support who would help manage throughout the storm and power outages. After examining all angles, we felt that the organization was prepared for a potential loss of full power. I was the Health Emergency Management team member on call for the weekend, so when heading out the door for the weekend, I grabbed my on-call binder which would enable me to stay connected while working away from the office.
By Friday night, when my manager checked in, I assured him that things were indeed fine and that I would continue to monitor the situation throughout the night and into the next day. It was clearly the calm before the storm.
In the eye of the storm
By 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, a number of our facilities were operating on back-up power.
Senior leaders continued providing updates on the status of operations at health care facilities across the region. We each had a role to ensure that service delivery continued to move along seamlessly. Conference calls took place approximately every three hours, while employees continued to manage the situation on the ground with our Communications Department on standby ready to advise the public of changes to service and responding to media inquiries as required.
Mostly due to the stormy weather conditions on Saturday morning, staff at some facilities were unable to report to work. Employees who worked the night shift right across the organization quickly stepped up to the plate and stayed on shift until a replacement was able to get into work. That ensured we continued to provide a high level of care within our acute care and long-term care facilities. To ensure we would maintain essential health care services, our senior leaders continued working on with a series of conference calls. At various stages throughout the weekend, there were a number of considerations for how the outages might impact Eastern Health facilities. Had Food Services implemented their plan so that patients could continue to receive meals? Would community clinics continue to operate with potential loss of power? Could elective surgeries still proceed? How would we advise patients and the general public?
Once the Provincial Government had initiated its Emergency Operations Centre through Fire and Emergency Services (FES-NL), all regional health authorities were asked to participate. I was the Eastern Health representative on the call. There were times when I was on Eastern Health and FES-NL conference calls at the same time using two different cell phones! I took notes by candlelight, communicated key information to and from each call where needed and coordinated troubleshooting of issues as required.
Throughout the entire process, like everyone else I monitored the news and social media to remain current on the situation from both Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. My husband tended to our children and pets, and I continued to work from home. At a certain point, I realized that both my family and phones were going to need to be “recharged.” So, we all headed to the warming centre at the Rotary Paradise Youth Community Centre, where we were greeted with warm smiles and hot soup. For the next few hours, my kids happily played with other children who had joined us at the warming centre, while I happily continued on with my work to help manage the situation.
Throughout that day and night, I had the support of both my manager, Joe Sobol, and our director, Gary Barnes. While they demonstrated their support by frequent check-ins by phone and email, they also assured me that they trusted me with the job at hand. Demonstrating such confidence in the people you have trained, is, in my opinion, the mark of remarkable leadership.
On Sunday morning, I joined some of Eastern Health’s senior leaders at the Health Sciences Centre to discuss whether a logistics centre was required. During a previous adverse weather event, Eastern Health established a logistics centre to support our facilities and the general population by ensuring that necessary medical supplies were provided. While the option was considered, by Sunday morning, from a weather perspective, the worst of it seemed to be over and there wasn’t a need for such a centre. But at Eastern Health, based on our experience, we would have been able to have a centre up and running in no time. While the rolling outages continued throughout the region, sites consistently hold their own throughout the day despite the setbacks presented.
As we know, on Sunday night, there was a further loss of power that set many of us back into black – a situation which remarkably resolved itself fairly quickly for most people. Work continued throughout that night. By Monday afternoon, it was agreed that no further regular conference calls would be required. Eastern Health’s leaders would continue to monitor situations within their facilities overnight and throughout the following days – particularly because another weather event was coming.
I have just finished typing my notes from the weekend’s events. The next step is to evaluate, along with my colleagues, what went right, to identify any gaps and to determine how we might improve our response in any future power outages.
Stepping up to the plate
As a health emergency management planner, my role is to support Eastern Health in situations such as this one. Even with reduced power and staff, Eastern Health’s facilities continued to chug along providing the very best of care to our clients. As I have worked at several sites throughout Eastern Health throughout my career, this comes as no surprise to me.
I continue to be humbled by the dedication of Eastern Health executive, management and employees across the region. Employees right across the organization are to be commended for stepping up to the plate during a time of need. Like many other employees, I have found my calling at Eastern Health, and feel a significant amount of pride in working with the Protection Services Department in the Health Emergency Management Division. ■
This story was written by Lisa Shallow, a health emergency management planner with Eastern Health.