For L+M workers, snow may mean sleepover, no day off

Engineer Paul Dubois works on replacing a valve in a deaerator tank in the plant operations area of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London as a winter storm hits the region Tuesday, March 14, 2017.  Many employees showed up early or stayed late for shifts, some even spending the night, to ensure the hospital was fully staffed for emergencies. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Engineer Paul Dubois works on replacing a valve in a deaerator tank in the plant operations area of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London as a winter storm hits the region Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Many employees showed up early or stayed late for shifts, some even spending the night, to ensure the hospital was fully staffed for emergencies. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New London — Emergency Department nurse Jamie Corso arrived four hours early for her regular afternoon-to-evening shift at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, driving 5 mph over the icy roads from her home 3 miles away to arrive around 11 a.m., ready to stay as long as needed.

“I got called in early because a lot of people couldn’t make it in because of the weather, or they had child care issues,” said Corso, her knit cap and snowsuit soaked from the short walk from the parking lot to the hospital lobby. “I’ll probably stay tonight if other people can’t come in. I always have an overnight bag in my car just in case.”

Her preparations included putting some essentials in her backpack: Along with a change of clothes and toiletries, she added earplugs and an eye mask to help her sleep on one of the hospital gurneys or cots set up for staff staying over, and “good food — sandwiches, soup, hot chocolate and snacks, because the cafeteria won’t be open at night.”

“I’m prepared,” she said.

While L+M’s affiliated doctors’ offices and offsite treatment centers closed during the storm, at the main hospital on Montauk Avenue all patient and patient support areas, including the facilities and information technology departments, stay open around the clock regardless of travel bans, slick roads and tree-toppling winds.

That requires alerting supervisors and staff two days ahead of the storm to plan for overnight stays, setting up the hospital auditorium, conference rooms and offices with cots and gurneys, getting linens and other supplies delivered a day early and making sure there’s plenty of diesel fuel on hand if the power goes out and the four generators have to be fired up.

“My biggest fear in a storm like this is not the snow, but losing power,” said Peter Stelzner, plant operations manager, as he showed visitors into the plant operations area where he’s been checking the generators to make sure they’re ready if needed. “If we do lose power, our generators will kick in automatically within 10 seconds. We’re basement dwellers, but everything we do touches the patient.” He slept on a cot in his office Monday night.

Ron Kersey, emergency medical services and emergency management coordinator at L+M, said about 40 beds were set up dormitory-style for nurses and doctors staying over, and several more staff set up cots in their offices.

“We’ve got about a dozen people sleeping now in some areas,” he said Tuesday morning.

After finishing his shift Monday night, public safety Sgt. Charles Pinell went to sleep on a cot he set up in the office used to make staff badges. Outfitted with a stretcher mattress and hospital sheets, pillow and blanket, he was very comfortable, he said.

“I keep an extra pair of pants and a shirt in my locker, and I got a hot shower in the locker room this morning,” he said.

Overall, the level of activity at L+M during the storm was subdued. Three babies were born on Tuesday, but only the sickest patients were coming to the emergency department.

“It’s been slower than normal, which is typical for a storm,” said Connie Grant, registered nurse and manager of the emergency department.

One of the emergency department physicians, Dr. Siri Daulaire, said she she’d been spending the day caring for truly sick patients brought in by ambulance.

“We’re not seeing the sprained ankles today,” she said.

She planned to stay Tuesday night if needed, her overnight bag packed with a favorite blanket and a good book to help her wind down.

In another part of the hospital, cardiologist Dr. Brian Cambi was manning the cardiac catheterization lab for the duration of the storm in case a heart attack patient came in. Just before noon on Tuesday, none had come yet.

“In a storm like this, we generally like to just hang out just to be here so we can open up the clogged artery as fast as possible,” he said. “I’ll stay here tonight if I have to.”

While most staff spending the night away from home because of the storm don’t seem to mind, Joanne Toth goes a step beyond just making the best of the situation. She welcomes the chance it gives her to spend time with her family.

“I’ll go to my sister’s house just down the street when I’m done here,” said Toth, a health unit coordinator in the emergency department who lives in North Stonington. “My mom lives there, too, so I’ll get a nice, home-cooked meal tonight.”

j.benson@theday.com

Charles Pinell, public safety sergeant, adjusts the mattress where he spent the night in the Public Safety Badging Office at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London as a winter storm hits the region Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Many employees showed up early or stayed late for shifts, some even spending the night, to ensure the hospital was fully staffed for emergencies. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Charles Pinell, public safety sergeant, adjusts the mattress where he spent the night in the Public Safety Badging Office at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London as a winter storm hits the region Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Many employees showed up early or stayed late for shifts, some even spending the night, to ensure the hospital was fully staffed for emergencies. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Dr. Neer Zeevi, right, a neurology specialist, and Dr. Siri Daulaire, an emergency room doctor, talk about a patient in the Emergency Room at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London as a winter storm hits the region Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Many employees showed up early or stayed late for shifts, some even spending the night, to ensure the hospital was fully staffed for emergencies.(Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Dr. Neer Zeevi, right, a neurology specialist, and Dr. Siri Daulaire, an emergency room doctor, talk about a patient in the Emergency Room at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London as a winter storm hits the region Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Many employees showed up early or stayed late for shifts, some even spending the night, to ensure the hospital was fully staffed for emergencies.(Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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