by Krystal McKenzie
Those of us who have lived here for five years or more are well acquainted with what we need to do when a hurricane is approaching and when one hits us. For staff at Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB), what to do at home and what to do at work are both important.
Operations at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH) and the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute (MWI) have to continue no matter the weather. Ambulance staff don’t stay home to ride out the storms—crews are always on hand during the storm when both hospitals go into lockdown. They venture out to help people in need as soon as it is safe to do so.
“Our Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are stationed at five different locations across the island during a storm,” explains BHB Chief EMT Walter Brangman. “It’s strategic so that we can provide assistance as quickly as possible. We have a team at KEMH, the Port Royal Fire Station, The Royal Bermuda Regiment, the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre and the Sylvia Richardson Rest Home in St. George’s.”
Consideration is given to where an EMT lives in determining where they are stationed.
BHB has detailed protocols for hurricanes and there are staff tasked with ensuring that sufficient volume of hurricane supplies and equipment are on hand and in working order year-round. BHB also divides staff into two groups; bravos, who are physically at the hospitals during the storm, and alphas, who relieve the bravos after the storm as soon as the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) deems it is safe to go out.
Brangman is in the alpha category, and while he is not physically in the hospital during the storm, he does a lot of preparation, making sure that all supplies are located in the correct place. He double checks the EMT hurricane kit, ensuring the two-way radios, flashlights etc. are working and fully powered, and that back-up power for necessary equipment is also in place.
“It can be more hectic as we prepare for a hurricane than during an actual hurricane,” he says. “Having a clear plan and remaining calm are integral to navigating our operations in the lead up to and in a hurricane.”
EMT Steven Adams has experienced working in several hurricanes. Usually on the bravo team, he explains that while Brangman is getting things in order at the hospital, people on his team batten down their homes and try to ensure their families are safe.
During a hurricane, BHB sets up a Hospital Incident Command Centre that staff refer to as the HICC. All activity is radioed in to the HICC, and it is there that decisions are made on what actions should take place.
“We don’t go out unless directed to by the HICC,” says Adams. “And the HICC dictates exactly which ambulance unit will be dispatched. Weather and road conditions have to be safe for us to traverse. In recent years, teams from the Parks Department are stationed with each of our units. They go out with us and clear the road as needed so we are able to access those in need and transport them safely to the appropriate facility.”
Going out, sometimes during the storm, is not for the faint-hearted, but Adams says that EMTs are trained to remain calm and focused. This training means they do not become flustered working during a hurricane.
So how do staff feel working in the hospitals away from their families during a hurricane? All the staff interviewed expressed pride in helping patients through a difficult time.
“One of the better experiences I have had was when the team worked really well together to ensure that the patients needing surgery were attended to and cared for,” says one nurse.
Peri-operative department nurse Suzanne Roberts says their alpha team members always look out for each other during the hospital hurricane lockdown. However, she notes that her husband is available if she needs emotional support.
Most hospital operations continue during a hurricane lockdown. Rooms still get cleaned, the laundry still gets done and patients continue to get their meals, as Environmental Services, Laundry Services and Dietary Services staff are on hand. In fact, staff expressed their appreciation that their departments were provided with sandwiches from the BHB kitchen.
“I thought that was a kind gesture,” one nurse says.
The hospitals’ Public Relations team provides regular hurricane and hospital operations updates in various formats for staff. The nurses and EMTs say the easy access to that information helps them mentally through the storm.
“It’s reassuring to have the hospital hotline to ensure that we can stay current with how the hurricane is moving over the island and know when it’s safe to venture out based on the recommendations of the EMO,” says one nurse.
Asked how she cares for her physical, mental and emotional self, nurse Janice Mullings-George says, “Spending time in nature with God, being intentional about blocking even five minutes for alone time, journaling, squeezing in a 20-minute workout, playing games with my family and friends.”
Regular attention to these practices helps her overall mental and emotional resilience so she doesn’t become overanxious knowing that she has to be at work during a hurricane.
EMT Adams says regular exercise helps him, and Chief EMT Brangman shares he finds nurturing his spiritual self to be beneficial.
Is it fun working at the hospitals during a hurricane? Imagine camping in the hospital. That’s what it is like for many staff during a hurricane. There are staff working their normal shift, and, depending on the projected severity and length of the storm, there is often a second shift of staff onsite to relieve the first shift. They bunk on cots and inflatable mattresses and socialize with each other until they are needed.
And for the EMTs who go out on the road, Adams recalls with a broad smile once being able to pick up “a ton of coconuts.”
Reminders from EMTs on avoiding emergencies during a hurricane:
Keep a well-stocked first aid kit nearby.
Keep your medicines/ medications well stocked—at least two weeks’ worth. If you are on home oxygen, make sure you are well stocked and that your machine is charged.
If injured or ill, please call 911. If you are unsure and need guidance for care after a minor injury, phone the Emergency Department.
When it comes to tools and clean-up, read the instructions to avoid injury. Do not work alone. Post hurricane, the Emergency Department often sees an increase in chainsaw accidents, falling from ladders and other injuries related to do-it-yourself repairs.