New Hanover Regional Medical Center kept functioning through Florence

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More than 1,800 staffers weathered Hurricane Florence at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, keeping the hospital operational.

They delivered seven babies and cared for more than 500 patients in three days of hurricane and tropical storm conditions. More than 1,800 staff members weathered Hurricane Florence on campus at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, keeping the hospital running and helping people.

“They put the community’s needs ahead of their own,” said John Gizdic, president and CEO of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. “Some moms left their infants at home with others in the storm to come to work. I find that unbelievably inspirational.”

Along with roughly 120 physicians who remained in house during the storm, Gizdic’s “usung heroes” included dietary workers who prepared thousands of meals for patients and staff under crisis conditions, and maintenance workers who blew up some 2,000 air mattresses so staffers stuck in the building would have a place to sleep.

The hospital’s Emergency Medical Services workers continued to respond to calls during the storm, Gizdic said, including the team of three physicians and five EMS staffers who headed to Mercer Avenue at Florence’s height on Sept. 14 when a tree crashed through a house, in hope of saving some of the injured. A mother and infant were killed in the incident. “They were risking their lives,” Gizdic said.

The storm damaged the roof of the northwest corner of the hospital’s patient tower, and leakage temporarily rendered six rooms on the 10th floor unusable, Gizdic said. Some residents’  offices in the administrative wind also suffered water damage. More serious was roof damage on the orthopedic tower, currently under construction, with leaks onto the third, fourth and fifth floors. Gizdic could not say how long completion of the new tower might be delayed.

One of the hardest decisions, Gizdic said, was the order to close Pender Memorial Hospital, the NHRMC Orthopedic Hospital (on the campus of the former Cape Fear Memorial Hospital) and the Emergency Department North in Scotts Hill, as Florence was threatening to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. All three facilities escaped with minimal damage, he added, and the main obstacle to full reopening has been waiting for evacuated personnel to get back to the area.

To ensure medical coverage for Pender County, NHRMC arranged with its partner, Atrium Health, to deploy “Med 1,” a fully-equipped mobile hospital, in Burgaw.

In the aftermath of Florence, hospital staffers helped Lower Cape Fear Hospice, Dosher Hospital in Southport and many private physicians’ offices to reopen, Gizdic said. On Sept. 18, hospital staffers opened a shelter for outpatients with special needs at Codington Elementary School. More than 50 people, including many who were oxygen-dependent or who required regular kidney dialysis, were cycled through the shelter, cared for by a total of 35 NHRMC personnel, according to Terri DeWees, the hospital’s director of trauma services. “We really made a difference,” DeWees said.

On Friday, the hospital turned operation of the Codington Shelter over to a state medical assistance team.

Gizdic said Pender Memorial, the Orthopedic Hospital and ED North should all reopen within the next couple of days.

Reporter Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-616-1788 or