Teams Across Cincinnati Children’s Weather the Storm Together
“It was a continuous effort from many departments to be ready to support employees during this storm.”
Amber Antoni, MSN, RN, director, Emergency Management
Food Services provided a variety of snacks to those who utilized overnight sleeping accommodations .
When inclement weather strikes, our core values really shine.
This was certainly the case back in early February when a Level 3 snow emergency was declared for the Tristate region, with increasing cold temperatures, freezing rain and heavy accumulation forecasted.
For our onsite essential employees—including all frontline health workers and many clinical support personnel, such as security, building and grounds crews—that meant potentially dangerous driving conditions for their commute home that evening or in the early morning hours. During a Level 3 snow emergency, onsite essential employees are expected to report for work as scheduled, as outlined in our inclement weather guidelines.
Several teams throughout the organization sprang into action in various ways, including Emergency Management whose preparations began last year following a similar winter event in 2021.
“It was a continuous effort from many departments to be ready to support employees during this storm,” said Amber Antoni, MSN, RN, director, Emergency Management.
In the span of four days, Antoni and her team met with leadership and revised their guidelines, began posting preparation reminders on CenterLink, updated their Emergency Management webpage with additional resources and instructions for how employees could request overnight sleeping accommodations, and began identifying conference rooms to use.
More than 80 essential staff at Burnet, Liberty and College Hill campuses opted for overnight sleeping accommodations.
Many leaders, managers and employees jumped in to help make each other feel supported. “We ensured employees felt safe and could continue to provide optimum care to our patients,” said Antoni.
To show their appreciation for those staying overnight, Jackie Hausfeld, MSN, vice president, Patient Services, helped assemble personal linen packs, and Dave Krier, vice president, Access Services and Family Relations, and Nancy Gaughan, assistant vice president, Medical Operations, provided snacks and movies.
Other departments—including Conference Services, Environmental Services, Facilities, Food Services, Grounds, Medical Operations, Patient Services and Protective Services—also stepped up by preparing sleeping spaces and individual packs of linen, as well as inflating a total of 136 beds across all three of our 24-hour sites.
Officers Rose Frederick and Molly Dietz were among those in Protective Services who greatly appreciated the opportunity to stay overnight instead of braving the elements.
“Our group made it a fun slumber party experience of snacks and watching a movie,” said Frederick.
“Without this help, many of us would have either attempted the drive home or been left with no place to sleep,” noted Dietz. “Thank you for setting up this space for us with such short notice!”
Access Services and Telehealth’s Two-Day Prep
Some Cincinnati Children’s teams helped in other vital ways, such as Access Services and Telehealth, which had less than 48 hours to transition more than 1,200 clinical visits into virtual ones and only about 24 hours to notify families about the decision to close outpatient clinics during the winter storm.
Leaders within those two teams helped to quickly identify next steps to take based on the lessons they learned from the previous winter. With approval from senior hospital leadership, families were notified about changes to their appointments sooner, ultimately resulting in less confusion and preventing potentially hazardous travel for those families.
“One of the most important lessons learned from last winter was our ability to more accurately send timely notifications to families,” noted Pamela Masters, assistant vice president, Access Services.
“We also were able to leverage the automation and reporting that our application development team had put in place throughout the pandemic response, which allowed links and instructions to be easily sent to families with the touch of a single button,” said Jennifer Ruschman, assistant vice president, Digital Health.
Both teams had to adjust their staffing to cover the immediate work that needed to be done, as well as field any additional incoming calls to reschedule future appointments or provide technical support for telehealth visits.
“Kelli McGinnis, our interim supervisor in telehealth at the time, was crucial to this execution,” noted Ruschman. “We had three or four telehealth staff work daily from 6 am to 8 pm to monitor any last-minute appointment flips and ensure that links and instructions were sent to the families. Furthermore, our technical telehealth and application development teams managed any technical issues that arose from the increased volume.”
“This was much less labor intensive than the work done by our Access Services team,” she admitted. Dozens of Scheduling Center staff contacted families to let them know about changes to their appointments and the option to reschedule if telehealth was not appropriate. And, if the change was same day, many of the clinical divisions also pitched in to contact their patients and families.
“Collaboration was key,” noted Masters. “Patti Stepp and I worked directly with the Scheduling Center managers to ensure that we had staff appropriately allocated for both inbound and outbound calling. I also worked with Greg Bronner and Leslie Asbury in Information Services to confirm that our Televox patient notifications were accurate and sent out in a timely manner.”
“This was a great process, but there are always learnings, and our full after-action review will help improve how to do it better in the future,” said Antoni.
The Telehealth team is looking to further automate their process during similar types of events so that patient links and instructions are automatically sent out if the appointment type is changed to telehealth. “We hope to eliminate the need for a staff member to click a button to complete the conversion of those appointments and notify the family,” noted Ruschman.
She also acknowledged the barriers that still exist in telehealth as it relates to serving patients from across the Tristate region. “Not all of our Cincinnati Children’s providers have licensure that allows them to deliver telehealth care to patients in Kentucky and Indiana.”
Advance preparation and notice were two important takeaways for Access Services, which, Masters admitted, reduced the stress, confusion and chaos that comes with unplanned events. “This time around, we were proactive not only with our patients but also with our staff,” she said. “It was harmony in motion!”
In the future, her team will work to proactively determine the divisions and types of visits that can be automatically transitioned to telehealth and continue to improve their ability to quickly automate patient notifications.
“As always, I think clear communication is the key to success,” noted Antoni. “My goal is that Cincinnati Children’s will be the safest place for our staff and families and that, during any event, we will be able to provide optimal care to our patients.”
Antoni reminds employees to always be situationally aware, especially when it comes to weather-related events. “Changes can happen with little to no notice, so your best defense is to always be both prepared and informed,” she said.
Read past issues of Inspire featuring these amazing teams:
Conference rooms throughout our three 24-hour sites were converted into sleeping spaces for staff needing overnight accommodations
Tornado Season Is Here—Are You Prepared?
With Spring’s arrival, the threat of severe weather increases. For the Greater Cincinnati region, that means tornadoes, which can happen anytime. That’s why it’s important to be prepared and pay attention when storm systems are predicted for our area. Here are some ways you can prepare for severe weather disasters:
Know Your Risk The best way you can prepare for severe weather disasters is being aware of the risks in the areas you live and work. This includes knowing the difference between “watches” and “warnings” that the National Weather Service issue when severe weather conditions are likely.
- A tornado watch is issued when weather conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop.
- A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted and is threatening the community.
At Cincinnati Children’s, alerts about tornado warnings happen in multiple ways:
- At Burnet Campus, Liberty Campus and College Hill, you’ll hear overhead announcements.
- All other sites, including Lincoln, Kasota, 3440 Burnet, Vernon Manor and Vernon Place, depend on community notification, sirens, smart phone and mass notifications from Cincinnati Children’s.
- NOTE: To receive emergency mass notifications from the medical center, you must include your cell phone number in your personal profile on CenterLink. Go to MyHub>My Information.
Make a Plan and Know How to Respond When Severe Weather Strikes Making a plan can help you respond better and faster when it matters most. Check out these tips and things to consider when developing your plan, and be sure to keep the needs of every family member in mind.
What to do before a tornado warning happens:
- If you are working from home, scope out a safe place on the lowest level of your house away from windows and doors where you can shelter, if necessary. If you do not have a basement, choose a room with no exterior walls.
- If you are working onsite, check the yellow emergency binder in your area. Instructions will be different for inpatient sites versus business areas. Get familiar with safety procedures so you can take action quickly when a tornado warning is issued.
- Identify safe locations where you can take shelter—preferably a basement or the lowest level of the building with no exterior walls. Patients and families should be moved away from windows into an interior corridor, if possible.
In the event of a tornado warning:
- Follow the emergency procedures for your area as outlined in the yellow binder.
- Do not leave the hospital.
- If you are in your car, do not attempt to outrun the tornado. Instead, get to a safe place immediately. If there is no building nearby, get out of your car and lie flat in the lowest place you can find, e.g., a ditch, covering your head and neck with your arms. Use a coat or blanket if one is available. Do not shelter under an overpass or bridge.
After a tornado occurs:
- If you are trapped, cover your mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing dust. Try to send a text, bang on a pipe or wall to let others know where you are.
- Stay clear of fallen power lines or broken utility lines.
- Do not enter damaged buildings until you are told they are safe.
- Save your phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.
Create a Kit in Advance In the event of a severe weather disaster, you may need to evacuate quickly or shelter for long periods of time. You’ll have less to worry about if you build a kit with the supplies you need prior to any imminent severe weather. Consider including these items in your kit:
- First aid kit
- Flashlight and batteries
- Pet food and extra water for your pet
- Several days’ supply of food and water
- Whistle to signal for help