On August 14, 2003, about 50 million people, from Michigan to New England and Canada, lost power when a tree branch in Ohio started an outage that quickly spread. At 4:10 p.m. on Friday, the hospital plunged into momentary darkness. Word quickly spread that the power outage wasn’t just a local problem, but potentially a national crisis. With more than 900 inpatients and 391 Emergency Center patients, the hospital was full.
Because of the teamwork and commitment to patient care, our patients continued to receive the quality of care they are accustomed to at Beaumont, despite limitations because of emergency power, and eventually, because of water restrictions.
Now, ten years later, it is encouraging to look back and see how Beaumont was able to continue to treat patients because nursing and ancillary staff reported to work as assigned, despite not having power in their own homes. We were able to continue to run the hospital because non-patient-care staff and volunteers reported to work and offered their services, whether it was running food to patients, collecting lab specimens or delivering water and ice to staff. And we were able to continue because of the hundreds of physicians who came in to offer their services wherever they were needed.
Here are a few memorable moments from the staff that were working at Beaumont during the blackout:
“I was working on 3 North at the time and some of the rooms heated up to 80 degrees within two hours. We had one patient, who insisted on going home so we escorted her down the stairs – one of us on each side. The dietary employees and others formed a human conveyor up the stairs to serve a cold dinner. Everyone stayed reasonably calm, as there wasn’t much we could do but wait. It’s one of those life events you don’t forget.”
“I worked the weekend of the blackout in the phlebotomy department, which posed many logistical issues as many had to experience as well. We had carts that were stuck on the floors so we had to keep them secure in the nursing stations until an elevator was available. The phlebotomists worked 2 x 2 – one with a flashlight and one to draw the patients. We had to make the patient confident of our abilities first, since appearing with a flashlight sure looked questionable! But it was a great alternative so we could still give care to the most immediate of needs.”
“Helping Hands of Home Services realized from this event that a Disaster List had to be maintained and contact made asap with all at-risk clients in such an event. The lessons we learned still impact our daily operations.”
“The heat was unbearable with no air conditioning, but the camaraderie was unprecedented! We were allowed to relax the dress code, within reason. I remember that a folded bandana around the head helped keep the sweat under control as you worked. And work we did. Just not what you usually did. So many people toted food up never ending stairs to feed the patients. And with no street lights or signals working, just getting to and from Beaumont was a challenge. Glad I had the experience…once!