Faith Regional Health Services’ emergency department is used to dealing with emergencies — but they don’t usually pertain to the hospital building itself.
On Saturday, the intense thunderstorm that produced large amounts of hail caused major damage inside the hospital.
At about 1:30 p.m., water began to seep underneath the outside doors to the department. As a result of the hail and mud, a drain clogged, causing about 10 feet of water to build up in a stairwell. The pressure became so great behind the metal door in the stairwell that the door bent, gave way and propelled itself into the emergency department.
Following close behind it was a flood of water, mud and hail approximately four feet high that poured in and covered every corridor and room in the department along with many hallways and rooms in adjacent departments. Exam rooms, equipment and chairs were upturned.
At the time of the incident, there were patients being treated in the emergency department. Faith Regional immediately implemented its Disaster Plan which involved the evacuation of patients and services in the affected area.
"Having recently moved here from western North Carolina, I am no stranger to mudslides and the damage that can be caused due to the extreme force at work," said Tim Auwarter, vice president of support and ancillary services, who was first to arrive at the disaster. "But I have never witnessed such destruction so far into a building from water and hail.
“The staff reacted with precision and took immediate action to keep our patients safe and to keep the department fully operational throughout the transition, along with support team members that went to work relocating computers, telephones and equipment, the patient registration area, and mobilizing the clean-up process," he added.
A temporary emergency department has been set up in the first floor of the new bed tower. The Patient Information desk in the lobby of the bed tower has been transformed into the emergency department registration desk. A large family waiting area has been designated as the area to care for patients with minor illnesses, while another area of the Intermediate Medical Care Unit has been identified to triage patients with more critical medical needs.
"We were very lucky that none of our patients and teammates were injured as a result of this disaster," said Jim Sinek, president and CEO of Faith Regional. "The Faith Regional team came together in their usual and remarkable way to completely relocate the entire Emergency Department to the first floor of our new bed tower.
”All of this was being done as we were caring for patients and cleaning up the mess. I can't say enough about the FRHS team of physicians, nurses, clinicians and support staff and the City of Norfolk Fire and Rescue Squad who all pitched in,” he added.
EMS squads and patients coming to the hospital with emergency needs can access the temporary emergency department by entering the east side of the hospital off of Norfolk Avenue and 25th Street. The entrance is adjacent to the main entrance of west campus. The temporary location will remain in place until the extent of the damage can be fully assessed and repairs can be made to the area.
"Ironically, the hospital was hosting its annual Faith Regional Health Services Foundation Gala that evening," Sinek said. "The proceeds of the annual fund raiser had already been designated to go toward the renovation and expansion of our emergency department.”