When Mother Nature blanketed the Arkansas/Louisiana/Texas region the week of Valentine’s Day with snow and ice, Overton Brooks VA Medical Center (Shreveport, LA) employees came together to ensure continuity of patient care so that hospital operations could continue.
The winter storm paralyzed much of the area when many roads and overpasses were closed or impassable. The conditions didn’t stop many VA employees from safely negotiating obstacles to arrive at work.
The medical center’s nursing staff understood their patient care role. Many nurses on duty when precipitation first hit the ground stayed on the job when many nurses on upcoming shifts found travel either difficult or impossible.
The Logistics Service rolled out cots, refrigerators for employee meals and provided bottled water. “Everyone pitched in on the team,” said Edward Figueroa, logistics administrative officer.
Came together to fulfill the mission to the hospital
“We had supervisors, purchasing agents, supply technicians, inventory managers, warehousing and admin staff who came together under our leadership team to fulfill our mission to the hospital,” Figueroa said. “Proud is an understatement for my feeling of gratitude to our dedicated staff.”
Shreveport VA employees Willie Thomas (left), an Air Force Veteran, and Jerry Robinson, an Army Veteran, walked several miles to get to the Shreveport VA during the winter storm
Willie Thomas, a nutrition and food service (NFS) worker, walked five miles to get to the hospital. “I’m an Air Force Veteran, so I know they need us. Food is a crucial part of their medical care.”
The NFS staff continued to provide three hot meals a day during the entire storm.
The NFS also prepared meals for employees who were unable to go home. Altogether, the NFS prepared 1,099 employee meals and 1,363 patient meals during the weather emergency.
Interim Chief Engineer Stacy Walden was near tears when discussing the herculean efforts of Engineering Service. “With a 70-year-old infrastructure, our facility was the only hospital in the area to weather the storm by maintaining clean water and repairing damages on the spot.
Staff on site 24/7 to keep hospital operational
“Our engineers worked 24 hours a day, for eight days,” Walden said. “Without their skills and knowledge of our infrastructure, we would not be in good condition like we are now. I cannot say enough about those who stayed on-site to keep us operational. The demands that were placed on the staff when you could see the exhaustion was truly heroic.”
As with all services that remained operational during the week of this storm, staffing was challenging.
“We had dedicated engineering staff that left their homes, managed the icy roads and made it on-site to take care of the medical center’s needs,” Walden added. “These folks love our Veterans and many are Veterans. Our mission was to keep our hospital operational, and that’s what these dedicated employees did.”
On the roof at 2 a.m. to fix leaks in freezing temperatures
As the freezing temperatures created leaks, staff left their warm beds at 2 a.m. to work long hours in the freezing temperatures. They were on the roof solving problems and managing sprinkler leaks, heating and cooling issues, electrical needs and helping with boiler plant operations.
Dozens of employees stayed at their post for the entire week. Emergency Operations Manager Patrick Card said the team rallied to get through every challenge. “Everyone from doctors and nurses to the medical support staff to our engineers and logistics reacted quickly.”
“There are so many unsung heroes here. Many of whom made a personal decision to get here,” saidMedical Center Director Richard Crockett. “All of this is happening in the backdrop of the pandemic. I’m extremely proud to see the way everyone has pulled together.”
Mark Woodall is a public affairs specialist with the Shreveport VA.