Just after 11 a.m. Thursday when power first went out in Enumclaw, the café on the first floor of began filling up with city residents.
“We started to see an influx of people to our cafeteria,” said hospital patient care services director Shelly Pricco, “to get warm and have food.”
The demand at the cafeteria grew to a level such that it was all hands on deck, and while the food services employees tended to those seeking sustenance, other hospital staff including a patient access manager, three operating room technicians and a laboratory technician kept the flow going by clearing tables and washing dishes, she said.
On Thursday, Pricco said it became clear that the hospital was probably the only place in town with power – it was powered by generators. “We became the resource for the community,” she said. “We started triaging for staffing issues to make sure that patient care wasn’t affected. … There was ongoing communication with all managers to ensure the departments were fully functioning. As the roads got icy and the weather got worse, that was an issue with staff.”
Consequently, some employees came in early and others stayed overnight. Because of outages, some employees had a hard time getting in, but there were no staffing shortages. “We’re really grateful there were people who stayed on in-house so we were ready to cover the subsequent shifts,” she said.
Therefore, the emergency department remained fully functioning and personnel cared for a number of people including a woman who was dependent on an oxygen device that needed electricity to power, as well as family of three who were victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. They were subsequently taken to Virginia Mason in Seattle for recovery and according to King County, were the first reported cases of CO poisoning in this current series of storms.
“I’m really proud of our staff,” Pricco said. “We always have such a can-do spirit here. Not only did we remain open but we dealt with the influx of patients and community members. We have such a great team here, and it’s nice to have our new hospital with its state-of-the-art technology to be able to maintain the services that we did.”
Testament to Importance of Critical-Access Hospital
The events that occurred this week and the manner in which St. Elizabeth Hospital staff responded to the needs of the immediate Enumclaw community illustrate clearly the important role that this critical-access hospital plays in this rural community, said Franciscan Health System spokesperson Gale Robinette. St. Elizabeth Hospital is a part of the Franciscan network of hospitals in the Puget Sound area.
“The last 24 hours have really been a great example of the importance of a critical-access hospital like St. Elizabeth in a rural community like Enumclaw,” he said. “For many, it was a safe haven and the only place people could go where there was heat.”
Down in Olympia, however, as state lawmakers figure out a way to close its financial hole, House Bill 2130 proposes to cut funding for critical-access hospitals in the state. “If approved, it would cut funding [for St. Elizabeth] by more than $2 million a year,” said Robinette. “It’s a huge mistake and will have a detrimental effect on the community. Imagine if there wasn’t a St. Elizabeth Hospital that functioned at the level that it functioned.”
Click here to read a column by Dennis Popp, president of St. Elizabeth Hospital, in the Courier-Herald.
If the cut were approved, the hospital would still operate in the community, “but it would have an impact,” he said. “We can’t absorb $2 million in funding cuts and not have something go away. Right now, we can’t say what that is and we hope we won’t get to a point of having to deciding on that. This week provides as important testimony as anything that critical-access hospitals are absolutely essential to rural communities like Enumclaw.”
Pricco said hospital officials have meetings set up with local lawmakers including Rep. Cathy Dahlquist and Rep. Christopher Hurst, and “all are very agreeable to meeting.”
Community Pulls Together for Disaster Planning
“Not only has the hospital provided care without interruption … we’ve collaborated with and are an essential partner with the city agencies in working together in ensuring the community’s needs are met,” Robinette said.
This includes city leaders and both the Enumclaw police and fire officials in a city-wide disaster planning committee that began about a year ago, Pricco said. This week was the partnership’s first test. “Chief [Jim] Zoll shared with this that this was the most coordinated event that he’s been a part of,” she said.
The most clear product of this committee is the coordination and publicizing of a warming shelter that is being hosted by Mutual of Enumclaw Friday night. In the past, relief efforts like this were not as well communicated, she said. “Mutual of Enumclaw is a great partner and will continue if the need is there,” she said.
While this week wasn’t the first time city leaders and businesses pulled together to help, it may be the first time it was a carefully organized community effort. Pricco, who previously worked at Enumclaw Regional Hospital said that during the last long-term power outage, various agencies weren’t in the loop about what needs and services were out there. “We had no idea Mutual of Enumclaw could step up [and provide warming shelter],” she said. “This time, it was a perfect example of where we took our coordinated effort and were able to know how to help each other out. We’ve come a long way.”
Maybe not perfectly, though. At the request of Mayor Liz Reynolds, the parties will be meeting again next week to strategize the next step in disaster preparedness: public communication.
Patch will be there and we’ll let you know how it goes.