GOLDSBORO — Wayne Memorial Hospital basically sat on an island after the record rains brought on by Hurricane Matthew last week flooded the Neuse River and just about every road and highway leading into the city. Nearly half of the hospital’s physicians and staff had no way to make it work for nearly five days, meaning several third- and fourth-year Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine students were called on to assist in ways they never imagined heading into their rotations this year.
They manned the nursing stations. Answered phones. Transferred patients. Took vital signs. Helped sterilize a room full of surgical equipment.
They worked the cafeterias. Delivered meals. Washed and folded laundry.
“To sum it up in one word, they were really phenomenal,” said Jeff Brogneaux, emergency preparation coordinator at Wayne Memorial. “Our hospital was surrounded by water, roads were cut off, and we were really in the thick of it. But the students jumped in everywhere they were needed. There was no job too small.”
Hurricane Matthew dumped a record 18 inches of rain in Goldsboro, causing the nearby Neuse River to crest a foot higher than its previous record from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The storm was responsible for 26 deaths and $1.5 billion in damage to buildings in North Carolina as of Monday, according to published reports. At least two of those deaths happened in Wayne County, where the victims’ vehicles were swept away by flood waters.
Wayne Memorial is home to 44 Campbell students, half of them third-year students on rotations, according to Dr. Robin King-Thiele, chair of internal medicine and associate professor. Campbell students also worked at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton, the North Carolina city hardest-hit by the storm, and at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville, which also saw flooding.
About 25 of the students in Goldsboro were available to the hospital in the days following the storm, she said, and because of the sudden shortage in doctors and staff, their presence and contributions were vital as the hospital reached full capacity (it couldn’t discharge patients because of the roads, yet more were being admitted through the emergency department). One of the reported deaths — a 54-year-old man whose vehicle was trapped by flood waters — happened just blocks from the hospital’s main entrance.
Brogneaux said he hopes the experience was eye-opening for the students, most of whom will work through a natural disaster or some other mass-casualty event at some point in their medical careers.
“I hope they could see that in a time of crisis, everybody pulling together makes an enormous difference,” he said.
The following are personal experiences from three Campbell medical students in Goldsboro:
While most of the med students at Wayne Memorial live in apartments or housing within a mile of the hospital, Kristin Stuive lives less than 20 minutes to the south of Goldsboro. Her path to work was cut off for much of the week by the Neuse River, which crested at record heights Wednesday, four days after Matthew hit the coast.
Instead of helping out on site, Stuive joined an EMS crew in nearby Mount Olive, spending Tuesday and Wednesday helping them pick up oxygen tanks (floated across the river by the National Guard) and assisting patients in that area.
“I learned a lot about what first responders have to deal with during a natural disaster,” she said. “The EMS staff were telling me stories about evacuating patients flooded in their homes and helping people trapped in their vehicles those first few days.”
She left them with a better appreciation for all that happens before a patient arrives to the doctor.
“I think it’s important as a physician to appreciate all aspects of health care, from the nursing staff to CNAs to first responders,” Stuive added. “They’re the first on the scene and often the first to interact with a patient. Their interaction with that patient can impact how they’re doing on admission. These last few days have been a really good experience for me.”
A native of Kenansville, Alison Rumball and her family have seen the effects a hurricane can have on the eastern part of the state. Rumball was home when the storm hit, and thankfully, she said, her home and city was spared of the worst of it.
Goldsboro was a different story. She said she was notified on Monday that students would be needed and that the hospital was in “dire straits” when it came to staffing.
When Rumball arrived to work, she helped with the laundry folding — Wayne Memorial does laundry service for two other hospitals and, this week, the county jail. She also assisted in the boardroom and got a behind-the-scenes look at how the clinical administration planned and executed its crisis plan.
“It was amazing to me to see the logistics behind the whole operation,” she said. “As a physician, you often just see the patient-to-patient interactions and not necessarily how the organization as a whole is run. It gave me a greater appreciation for that aspect — without the administrative portion running so smoothly, the hospital couldn’t have handled this storm. If a patient can’t be discharged and the whole hospital backs up, it can be a rough situation. But this place handed it well.”
Third-year student Rachel Angstadt wasn’t even aware that a sterilization room existed.
Yet there she found herself Tuesday after the power outages forced the hospital to run on generators, which couldn’t keep the room that housed the hospital surgical equipment at the proper temperature. Angstadt and other students resterilized and organized all the equipment — a tedious and “chaotic” task, she said — for much of Tuesday and a part of Wednesday until power was fully restored.
Her take from the experience? Like Brogneaux said, there’s no job too small in the time of crisis.
“We don’t see a lot of the behind-the-scenes organization, and I was amazed at the amount of communication needed to keep this place running,” she said. “If this happens again in my career, I’d want to communicate with the staff the way they did at Wayne Memorial. They were on top of things from the beginning.”
— by Billy Liggett