Lending a helping hand during an emergency is just part of life in rural healthcare. A recent snowstorm put that notion to the test and brought out the best at Bella Coola General Hospital.
The region had already been battered by an unusual amount of snowfall for the season, but on Friday, January 3, the situation became dire when a huge storm cut off the coastal community from the mainland for more than a day.
At 3 a.m. that morning, the power went out at Bella Coola General. Fortunately, power outages aren’t particularly rare and the hospital had generators to keep the facility running. But the weather conditions meant no one was coming or going, including staff.
There were no cooks, dietary aids or housekeeping. While the situation could have been a disaster, everyone at the hospital stepped up to help.
Sharon Carroll, the Program Manager for Bella Coola General Hospital, explained staff and maintenance crews who were already working pulled long hours that day to keep the hospital running and ensured patients received care.
Nursing and lab staff donned aprons to cook meals and keep everyone fed. Maintenance staff worked all day and stayed overnight onsite to make sure everything was okay, including snow removal and keeping generators/heaters going for staff use. When someone needed a break, they took naps where they could find space.
“The hospital — with the staff it had on that very first day — everyone pitched in and made sure everything was done,” Carroll said. “Everyone did a fantastic job, the whole team.”
Carroll, who also found herself stranded at home and couldn’t get to the hospital, added anyone who lived close enough to the facility and could make it in also stopped by to assist.
At the same time, Dr. Jeff Peimer, the hospital’s new medical director, managed to get the local hardware store to open to purchase a pair of generators. He set them up in his residence on the hospital site for any staff to come in and get warm.
While Peimer helped out where he could, he was quick to credit the hospital staff and the maintenance crews for keeping the facility operating.
“At times like this, the people who are support staff and maintenance who do their daily thing every day, suddenly just become the most important people on the block,” he said.
By late Friday, the only road into town reopened to one lane and even more staff made their way in. The next day, power was back on and everything returned to normal.
Carroll suggested the timing of the storm was fortunate in that there were no high-risk patients or critical incidents during the two days. But with each storm event, she said the hospital is even more prepared for the next snowmageddon.