Monte Wilson, COO of Kennestone Hospital, said staff already at the hospital were asked to stay and continue treating patients.
Wilson said the nurses and physicians rotated meal breaks and hours for sleep.
“You could see the true heart of our coworkers,” Wilson said.
An alert was sent out Tuesday afternoon for any available Kennestone doctors and staff to drive to the hospital. But, because of bad roads and severe congestion, the relief support could not get there.
“Church Street and Tower Road were backed up as far as I could see,” Wilson said about Tuesday night.
Walking to work and staying there
Wilson said more than 100 physicians and staff members walked to Kennestone Hospital, including one nurse who was escorted over icy sidewalks by her husband.
Lauren Norton, who has been a registered nurse with WellStar for two and a half years, arrived for her normal day shift at Kennestone at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday morning.
By late Thursday afternoon, Norton was just about to leave for her long journey home to Smyrna, as relief nurses began to arrive.
For the past two days, Norton said she stayed primarily on her floor in the cardiac telemetry unit, treating patients with chest pain or people who were recovering from pacemaker surgery.
It was Norton’s first time working at a hospital during a state of emergency, but she said “for the most part” everything was up and running.
“There were enough hands on deck,” with managers staying by the staff’s side, Norton said. “We kind of all pulled together as a big family.”
Wilson said Kennestone’s 633 beds were mostly filled by patients who had arrived before the storm, many with flu symptoms and needing respiratory treatment or other care, Wilson said.
There was a higher than normal volume during the storm on Tuesday, with patients involved in minor accidents filling the trauma area.
“The EMS vehicles were having difficulty getting here,” Wilson said.
By Thursday afternoon, Wilson still could not confirm or deny if the hospital had any cases of weather-related deaths, nor could he say how many patients, if any, had been treated for frostbite.
Cold, tired motorists seek shelter
By 6 p.m. Tuesday evening, Wilson said WellStar opened up the auditorium at the Kennestone hospital for stranded motorists.
“This is health care in a sense, and what we are here for,” Wilson said.
When residents realized they were not going to make it home Tuesday night, some people walked for two hours to reach Kennestone.
Wilson said Kennestone gave 160 people food, warm drinks, blankets, pillows and even created a “movie night.”
Many of those residents did not leave the hospital until late Thursday afternoon as the roads were cleared.
Although Wilson was not able to release the patients’ names, he did describe a couple of special moments at Kennestone during the freeze.
A local family was devastated that they were not able to reach Kennestone to say goodbye to a family member who lay in the hospital about to die.
The family did not want the loved one to be alone, Wilson said.
The Kennestone nursing staff assured the family, “there was no way in the world that family member would be alone,” Wilson said.
Staff members remained at the bed side until the patient died, Wilson said.
Another more joyous moment was shared with a wife and husband.
Before the storm hit, Wilson said a local woman came in for a procedure and should have been able to return home.
However, both she and her husband became trapped at Kennestone on their wedding anniversary.
When nurses and the food service workers at Kennestone heard the news, the staff brought the couple a cake.
“They celebrated their 50th here at Kennestone,” Wilson said.