As Hurricane Matthew plummeted the Southeast last week and severely affected a South Carolina community we serve, HCA leaders at the corporate, division and local level organized to provide affiliate Grand Strand Medical Center the resources needed – in this case, nurses.

The Myrtle Beach, S.C., hospital – a member of HCA’s South Atlantic Division – felt the brunt of the storm last Saturday, leaving the beach community with trees and power lines down, localized flooding, debris in the roadway and nursing staff (and others) unable to return to work.

“We had 16 nurses callout on Sunday morning, and they were all legitimate reasons,” Tiffany Keys, Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) at Grand Strand Medical Center, said. “My house flooded, there’s a tree on my roof, I’m sand bagging to try and save my home…you name it and it was happening. And there was nothing I could do about it.”

Except there was. HCA’s network and emergency response experience allows us to respond to both staffing and resource needs for our hospitals quickly.

So, when Keys unknowingly made the request for nurses on Sunday during an event Emergency Operations Center (EOC) coordination call with her division leaders, who set up a command center at sister facility Colleton Medical Center, it was escalated to corporate headquarters in Nashville.State of Emergency Hurricane Matthew angel nurses

“By this time, I had been staying at the hospital for three days due to evacuation orders for my neighborhood, I was sleep deprived and when they asked, ‘what do you need,’ Keys recalled, “I said, ‘well, if I had 20 nurses, I could work them.’”

That was 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. In less than 12 hours, a total of 18 multi-area specialty nurses were on assignment at Grand Strand Medical to provide nursing relief and care for patients.

Thanks to support from HealthTrust Workforce Solutions, a division of our wholly-owned subsidiary HealthTrust, nine nurses had arrived from Nashville by 6:30 p.m. that night and nine more came from Houston two hours later.

Paula Phillips, vice president of clinical operations for HealthTrust Workforce Solutions, said 185 nurses expressed interest in the initial request. The list was narrowed after identifying caregivers who were available on short notice and had multistate nursing licenses, which permitted them to work in South Carolina, one of 25 compact licensure states.

“Because the turnaround happens so fast, it really limits how many people can drop everything they’re doing, grab their bag and head to the airport,” she said. “That’s really what we’re asking them to do. Typically, the first area we solicit is Nashville – it truly is a “Volunteer State,” in every shape, form and fashion.”

During Hurricane Katrina, Phillips said they sent 425 nurses from Nashville alone. “Our Tennessee nurses really pull through in disaster situations, and this time was no different,” she added.

After Keys’ conversation earlier that morning, she went back to prepping the hospital for more patients and didn’t think more of it. Until her phone, which was caught in a poor service area, started “blowing up.”

“I get on the phone and they start talking about deployment and nurses coming today, and I’m stunned.”

Keys said she never really stepped back to look at how dire the situation was. She just got in the zone and did what needed to be done. But to recap, they were under mandatory evacuation by order of the Governor, under curfew between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., had massive power outages, trees and debris everywhere, and approximately 125 staff members sleeping at the hospital. They were in a state of emergency, in every sense of the phrase.

So, when the third-year Grand Strand Medical Center CNO was texted a picture of the first group of nurses to arrive, she, in her own words, lost it.

“I like to consider myself tough. I do not cry, especially at work,” Keys said. “But when I saw that group of nurses, smiling and waving at me, it was overwhelming. You knew they came because they wanted to and because they believed in the mission that we all have as HCA employees – above all else.”State of Emergency Hurricane Matthew angel nurses

“Just to know that my company did this for our team, for our nurses, so that we could take care of our patients and our community, it was humbling,” she continued. “Having the experience of working for other healthcare corporations, there’s not a company out there who would and could mobilize the resources the way HCA did.”

The Grand Strand nurses had some of their finest moments during the disaster situation, too. They volunteered to work all weekend, even as their families were evacuating. They traded with their colleagues who couldn’t make it in, so they wouldn’t have to callout. They bunked six to eight in a room to consolidate resources. And, they provided quality care to more than 200 patients, and didn’t miss a beat.

“I knew how short-staffed we were and how tired my staff was, and I knew that they would dig in and do what needed to be done just to take care of our patients,” Keys said. “But to know that, thanks to our company and our ‘angel nurses,’ they wouldn’t have to struggle and continue to push themselves, it was truly a life saver.”

Keys said she’s always loved Grand Stand Medical Center, her team and her job, but it’s nice to know when you need something, HCA has your back.

“That’s what I love about our company. When the rubber meets the road, we’re all in this together – above all else.”

Take a look at Grand Strand Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Tiffany Keys’ heartfelt thank you to the nurses who arrived from Nashville to provide nursing relief. 

HCA internal audience can view the video here.