Hospitals cope with snow, gird for aftermath

As more and more residents venture outside Tuesday and in the ensuing days to continued the laborious chore of shoveling snow, area hospitals — already operating under weather emergency plans — anticipate they will get busier with snow-related injuries.

“Once people start digging out they have accidents and start coming into the emergency room,” said Prince William Hospital spokeswoman Donna Ballou.

“While we have not seen an increase in motor vehicle accidents, we anticipate an increase when residents begin venturing out on the slick roads,” said Charlene Wilkins, spokeswoman for Potomac Hospital.

During the weekend storm and at the beginning of this week, both the Prince William and the Potomac hospitals’ emergency rooms reported more patient visits than usual.

“The emergency room stayed busy all day [Monday],” Ballou said.

About 10 patients were seen at Potomac Hospital’s emergency room on Monday for chest pain as a result of shoveling snow. “Several patients were also seen for back and neck problems due to shoveling and falls,” Wilkins said.

There were likely several more during the day Tuesday, however statistics were not available.

Since both hospitals were operating under weather-related emergency plans, the departments were already staffed and ready to handle the patient load.

Early Sunday, Prince William Hospital activated its Code White plan at 3:15 a.m., Ballou said.

Under the Code White plan, certain employees in each department are designated as emergency personnel, mainly primary care providers and patient staff, and are required to report to work, Ballou said.

Potomac Hospital also geared up its Weather Emergency Transportation Plan because of the snow.

A control center is established in Potomac’s auditorium to coordinate the logistics of keeping the hospital open, running and staffed, Wilkins said.

Under Potomac’s plan, all personnel that work with patients are required to make an effort to report to work, Wilkins said.

If weather conditions make this difficult, employees are advised to call the nursing supervisor to determine if they are needed in their department or if the department is adequately staffed, Wilkins said.

Both hospitals had arrangements in place to get necessary employees to work.

Through a partnership with Woodbridge Wireless, a weather emergency team coordinates transportation services for essential personnel at Potomac Hospital.

“If the employee is needed, a four-wheel driver is sent to pick them up,” Wilkins said. “The employee’s location to the hospital is also taken into consideration by the control center.”

Some of Potomac’s employees live as far away as Orange County.

Both hospitals have a core group of volunteer drivers who offer their services.

Additionally, Prince William Hospital has a lot of employees who have four-wheel drives and help bring our staff in, Ballou said.

Prince William also made a public announcement Sunday and Monday asking for more volunteer drivers. That request was met, Ballou said.

Part of Potomac’s transportation plan had in years past enlisted the help of HAM radio operators to provide communication while the drivers were on the road.

But, Wilkins said, a sign of the changing times found this time “cell phones have become a more popular means of communication in 2003.”

Once at the hospital, some employees — as many as 10 at Potomac — chose to spend the night instead of making the trek home and then back to the hospitals again the next day.

Elective surgeries at both hospitals were either canceled or postponed when patients and doctors couldn’t get in, Ballou said.

Elective surgeries were down by about 75 percent earlier this week because of the storm.

Staff writer Aileen M. Streng can be reached at (703) 878-8010.

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