New automated phone system assists employees

by Cindy A. Abole, Public Relations

Good communication becomes as much a vital link between employees and management as electricity is to hot water and other necessities during a severe weather emergency.

While securing property or gathering family and personal effects in the wake of a hurricane warning, MUSC staff and students can be at odds trying to get vital informatin relating to work schedules, class cancellations and clinic closings.

“The employee weather information line will be the vital information link between employees and the MUSC Medical Center,” said Al Nesmith, director of Safety, Security and Volunteer Services and disaster control officer for the MUSC Medical Center. “The lines were especially created to assist the clinical services staff who must rely on timely and accurate information to sustain and supplement clinical services staffing as a weather emergency approaches.”

As part of the 1998 hurricane season, a new MUSC employee weather emergency information system will be activated to direct Medical Center employees to information during hurricanes and other natural disasters. The information will be accessed through the MUSC Health Connection, an automated health information library. Health Connection provides access to MUSC services to the public and health care information.

Established in 1991, Health Connection now averages about 650 calls per day, with 95 percent of the callers accessing the system between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., weekdays.

“We concluded that this technology could be helpful in an emergency situation,” said Hope Colyer, manager of the referral and member services, Marketing Services, which operates MUSC Health Connection.

Last year, Colyer met with Susan Pletcher, director of Critical Care and Emergency Services and Pam Cipriano, Ph.D., administrator for Clinical Services, in creating and integrating a system to support nearly 3,000 clinical staff employees. As a weather emergency is declared by the Governor, the system becomes activated.

In weather emergencies like hurricanes, Medical Center employees assigned to specific care units are classified into two work teams. Team “A” is designated as the “first line of defense” and will work the primary shift throughout a weather emergency until it is declared safe. Then, the “second line of defense,” Team “B,” will relieve the previous group.

“Our recent experience with Hurricanes Bertha and Fran, helped us identify these problems,” said Pletcher recalling how both hurricanes ultimately missed Charleston. The Medical Center struggled to operate on a return-to-work status as staffers outside Teams “A and B,” responded in the same way as other Lowcountry residents, heeding warnings and fleeing to safer grounds. As the emergency was lifted, employees tied up phone lines especially in busy nursing units. “We had no effective mode to communicate to our employees,” Pletcher said.

When a weather emergency is declared, the program will allow designated managers to dial into the system and provide updates throughout the emergency in a format similar to voice mail. Individuals can access the system at anytime locally, 792-1414 or nationally through the toll-free Health Connection line, 1-800-424-MUSC.

MUSC Health Connection is only one component of the Referral Call Center. Health Connection provides access and referral to MUSC health care services with calls handled by customer service representatives and health resource nurses. The automated health information library is accessed through Health Connection and contains more than 1,200 recorded general health topics with an additional 300 pediatric health topics in the Parent Connection library. MEDULINE serves as the physician-to-physician referral line for MUSC and is handled by the same staff. Pediatric After Hours Care is another service of the call center and provides pediatric triage services for over 50 pediatricians and their patients.

“Because of the potentially large volume of calls, staff may experience delays in being able to access department codes,” Colyer said. Once inside the main system, individuals will be patched through one of 16 lines which will support the 34 emergency codes she said.

Pletcher and Colyer will be meeting with designated managers to conduct presentations and distribute the green, wallet-sized information cards featuring the MUSC Employee Weather Emergency Information number, clinical unit codes, plus an emergency weather supply list for hospital and university designated personnel.

“As long as the Medical Center’s phone lines are protected,” Nesmith said. “The automated phone system will allow employees to access at their convenience information on when and how to report back to work. The phone system becomes an auxiliary system that creates a type of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic time.”

Non-medical center employees, students and the general public can obtain information using MUSC’s 24-hour information line, 792-MUSC. Employees and students are also encouraged to continue monitoring updated broadcast information available through radio, television, internal MUSC Broadcast Messages and the MUSC Internet Homepage.

Limited services established for dogs, cats

by Cindy A. Abole, Public Relations

When disaster strikes, emergency planners need to remember pets and animals, too.

“There’s an identified need for this type of care,” said Susan Pletcher, director of Critical Care and Emergency Services. Pletcher, herself an owner of two cats and a dog, remembers how Lowcountry kennels filled quickly, leaving people little warning or no alternatives to house their animals during previous emergency conditions.

As Lowcountry residents scrambled to find shelter during Charleston’s brush with hurricanes Bertha and Fran in 1996, essential hospital personnel and staff were also desperate to find temporary shelters to house beloved pets. Added to the frustration was the fact that local emergency shelters were closed to animals during declared weather disasters, like hurricanes. Instinctively, some employees brought their pets to work unsure of their schedule or the storm’s outcome.

Pletecher and her staff were surprised to discover many employees' pets housed throughout clinics and offices. “We knew it was unsafe. Yet for some people, their dog or cat is their only family. There needs to be a stop gap measure established in assisting employees who need help so they can resume their focus on work and daily contributions,” Pletcher said.

Modeled from the hospital’s child care facility for essential personnel following the 1996 hurricane season, employees and staffers recognized the need for extending a similar service to working pet owners. That’s when MUSC Pet Care was formed.

Pletcher worked with university officials to gain permission, organize a location, prepare criteria and secure volunteers and management. Pletcher turned to another Lowcountry professional Teresa Smith of TLC Pet Sitting Service. Smith agreed to provide organizational help and assistance with the temporary kennel.

“Perhaps my biggest concern as we began this project was safety,” said Smith, who’s been in the business of caring for animals within their homes since 1995. “I realized I needed to face reality for my safety when I knew I was going to be among the people who would stay with the animals.”

Although the program should be used as an employee’s last resort, its success will depend upon the final ratio of pets vs. people. As the state declares a weather emergency, information on the Pet Care Center can be accessed through an automated telephone recording available through MUSC’s Health Connection.

Employees using the Pet Care Center will be charged a fee of $5 per pet.

Will Pet Care also make room for cats? “Of course, although cats are the hardest animals to accomodate especially in a temporary shelter,” Smith said. Because they can’t be released, felines must be housed in a large pet carrier equipped with food and newspaper she said.

Animal free time is also a challenge for pet sitters. Since sitters are short on space and don’t have defined time schedules reflecting animal bathroom breaks and exercise, a chart featuring each pet’s schedule will be utilized and attached to their crate.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local agencies are dealing with the pet care issue, animal owners are encouraged to continue making prior arrangements with family/friends, kennels or pet-friendly hotels during a weather emergency.

“The establishment of the emergency child care and pet centers demonstrates MUSC’s efforts to assist and support staff who are required to work during a weather emergency,” Pletcher said.

For information about the Pet Care Center during disaster weather emergencies, contact Pletcher at 792-1319.

Pet owners must provide the following:

  • All pets must be crated or caged.
  • A veterinary copy of mandatory immunizations must accompany the pet. Immunizations must be current or pets will NOT be accepted in the Pet Care Center. Dogs: Rabies, DHLPP/C, ITT (Bordetella) Cats: Rabies & FVRCP (Distemper), Feline Leukemia (recommended)
  • Provide enough food and water, bowls and medication for 72 hours.
  • Include special instructions for feeding, administering medication, include pertinent medical history if available.
  • Dogs must have a collar with ID tag and leash so they may be walked.
  • Old newspapers to line cages.
  • Signed waiver releasing MUSC of liability in the care of your pet.
  • Owner assumes responsibility for any veterinary care needed. The owner will be notified immediately if the animal appears ill.

Services in place to assist students during emergency

Students are encouraged to listen for information from the vice president for academic affairs office and provost declaring an official area weather emergency. The university will decide whether to delay or cancel scheduled classes or clinical rotations.

MUSC’s Office of Public Relations will provide updated recorded messages that will publicize information through local television, radio stations, internal MUSC Broadcast Message system, MUSC Internet Website and the 24-hour information line, 792-MUSC.

A central information center, located in the Student Lounge (second floor, Harper Student Center) will be activated for students to call or visit for the latest information, news reports, emergency housing information, transportation or needed assistance during preparedness and recovery phases. It will remain open for extended hours during hurricane watches or other disasters.

Student Programs will post hurricane survival guides and other related information on bulletin boards throughout campus from June through November.

Information regarding local shelters will be provided and updated by the Emergency Preparedness Divisions of Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties.

NOTE: It is the responsibility of each student to know the university’s guidelines for weather emergency preparedness. In an emergency and disaster circumstance, ALL students—undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree, regardless of college or program—are considered “non-essential” personnel. Under no circumstances may students be detained or stay for classes, clinicals, patient or lab coverage.

SAFFIR/Simpson hurricane scale

Category 1 Winds 74-95 miles-per-hour or storm surge 4-5 feet above normal. Actual storm surge values will vary considerably depending on coastal configurations and other factors.

Category 2 Winds 96-110 miles-per-hour or storm surge 6-8 feet above normal. Actual storm surge values will vary considerably depending on coastal configurations and other factors.

Category 3 Winds 111-130 miles-per-hour or storm surge 9-12 feet above normal. Actual storm surge values will vary considerably depending on coastal configurations and other factors.

Category 4 Winds 131-155 miles-per-hour or storm surge 13-18 feet above normal. Actual storm surge values will vary considerably depending on coastal configurations and other factors.

Category 5 Winds greater than 155 miles-per-hour or storm surge greater than 18 feet above normal. Actual storm surge values will vary considerably depending on coastal configurations and other factors.

Employees can find safe haven for children

by Cindy A. Abole, Public Relations

Finding safe, adequate care for loved ones during a Lowcountry weather emergency can add stress to the lives of designated hospital and university employees and their families. As employees brace for possible long-term support during a severe weather emergency like a hurricane, the safety of their children and pets need not be an individual’s primary worry amidst a time of danger and potential chaos.

MUSC has addressed these and other important issues discussed by concerned employees who may need to rely on finding shelter for their children and pets during hurricane season. Charleston’s experience with Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and more recent storms since then, has challenged the safety of MUSC’s support of employees and their families during a severe weather emergency.

“Our experience with Hurricane Hugo has taught us some very valuable lessons,“ said Mary Hughes, Children’s Hospital outcome manager and coordinator for MUSC’s Child Care during disaster weather emergencies. Hughes heads a team of child care experts and hospital personnel who volunteer their time to staff an emergency day care facility for working MUSC employees.

“Working parents who have little or no alternatives to finding day care under emergency situations will benefit from this service,” Hughes said. “The program is encouraged only as a service of last resort for working employees.”

Situated in the third floor occupational and physical therapy areas of MUSC hospital, the emergency weather child care facility would provide a convenient and safe haven for children of designated employees throughout a declared hazardous weather emergency. A designated employee is defined as an individual who directly or indirectly contributes to the ability of the Medical University and its Medical Center to provide patient care and continuous essential services.

Hughes admits the program has implemented many changes since Hurricanes Bertha and Fran. Improvements include the addition of Child Life Services for staffing and assistance in coordinating daily activities by age group, food/snacks, and better communications efforts with staffs. The Child Care services is listed among the new codes employees can access through MUSC’s Employee Weather Emergency Information through an automated telephone system known as MUSC Health Connection. During a declared weather emergency, employees may dial locally or a toll-free number to receive updated Child Care services information.

The service helped Dilip Purohit, M.D., Department of Pediatrics and Neonatology and his wife, Margaret, a nurse on staff, as the hospital shifted to an emergency mode with Hurricane Bertha in 1996. “The facility was a great idea,” said Purohit, whose daughter, Asha, was enrolled in the service. “Both my wife and I were reassured and relieved to know our daughter was close-by and properly cared for while we worked.”

The program groups participants by age: infants, toddlers, children and teenagers. A professional care giver— a volunteer from the hospital’s ambulatory care areas—can be assigned and responsible for up to five children. Prior to arriving, parents must complete a child registration form which describes the service; a release waiver and list of each child’s necessary items which includes: blankets, bottles, clothing, diapers, a favorite toy, formula, mattress, sleeping bags and pillow for sleeping, water and medications, preferably stored in its original container (enough for 72 hours).

“The program is only getting better,” Hughes said. “We’ve been learning from past experience and hope the service will be all it needs to be when that moment comes. We want to make sure we can provide the best place for employees and their families during an emergency.”

For information about the child care services during disaster weather emergencies, contact Hughes at 792-0061.

Parental responsibilities during emergency child care include:

  • Completion of a registration form.
  • Assistance with meals. Parents are encouraged to visit their child during mealtimes and breaks.
  • Employees are encouraged to pick up children immediately following each work shift.
  • Provide all medications necessary for your child for a 12-hour period, clearly outlining a schedule when medications should be administered. If possible, it is encouraged that medicines be administered to a child by the parent.

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