The community of Fort Bragg was ravaged with torrential winds and heavy rain caused by Hurricane Florence Sept. 14.
The hurricane caused major shut downs and delays but the Soldiers and civilians in the Womack Army Medical Center continued to run 24-hour operations throughout the storm.
Womack provides medical care to the largest Army installation in the world. It cares for more than 199,000 TRICARE beneficiaries, (active duty, retirees and their Families.)
In order to maintain optimal support during the storm, Womack leadership increased the staff and provided ad hoc sleeping quarters for hospital staff to rest during the storm.
Laura Katalano, a registered nurse in the Womack Step Down (SDU) Clinic, has been an caregiver for 26 years, but this was her first experience in a hurricane.
The SDU provides intermediate-level of care for patients who are between the intensive care and general-medical surgical care in Womack.
The staff explained how they prepared before the hurricane by ensuring all of their supplies were up-to-date and they had enough to support the patients plus anticipated patients.
Everyone in the hospital from the providers to the support staff pulled together to ensure continuous support was provided by relying on their culminated experiences and loyalty to the community.
Capt. Merwin Severtson, Emergency Medical Services director, used experience from his team and previous training to maintain operations.
“You’re being relied on to perform a function,” said Severtson.
He said his department increased the number of emergency vehicles available during the storm in order to ensure maximum support with minimal delay.
For Severtson, the training and experience from his staff was beneficial as he planned to adjust his resources in effort of the storm.
“A lot of the roads began to be impassable due to the flooding,” he said. “We had to evaluate the routes to manage our resources in anticipation if we were going to be able to get there by ground or air.”
Severtson and his crew prepositioned a portion of the EMS crew in areas he foresaw potentially being cutoff. That decision allowed his crew to provide continuous support to the community.
Womack provided continuous support to patients affected during the hurricane as well as patients who were already admitted.
One of the SDU patients was worried about his Family during the hurricane and the staff provided comfort to him by calling a family member to be by his side during the storm.
“Working in the profession, you’re expected to put mission first,” said Shakeiah Burch, an RN in the Womack SDU. “I brought in my son and we spent three days here at the hospital. We had food in the cafeteria and designated sleep areas. We all came together to support one another during the storm.”
While the hospital staff were worked 24-hour operations to provide care, some were also going through their own personal difficulties.
Burch and Katalano received damage to their property and they all left behind their own families.
“Keeping in touch with my husband and grandchildren through Zello made things a little easier,” Katalano said. “We are loyal to our Womack community. I’ve never been asked to go to a foreign country, so I think two nights supporting them will be OK.”
There was no degradation in the mission during the hurricane; every mission was a success. Misty Hummel, the chief of emergency medical services said that it was the powerful dynamics of the rock solid team that was able to pull this off.