Region’s hospitals, police prepared for Arctic weather ahead of its arrival

By Wayne Bryan Published December 8, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Kathleen Blackwell, safety and regulatory manager at Saline Memorial Hospital, holds a flashlight that is among the supplies employees can use during weather conditions that require them to stay at the hospital instead of going home.

Although the temperatures were in the 70s on Wednesday, medical and law enforcement responders through the region were getting things ready to deal with a potential winter-weather crisis.

“We started preplanning meetings Monday,” said Kathleen Blackwell, safety and regulatory manager for Saline Memorial Hospital. “We monitored weather reports and shared the information with our staff. We made housing and transportation plans that would begin Thursday night. Our mission is to make sure we remain open for the community.”

In past winter storms, including last year’s Christmas snow, Saline Memorial used ambulances to bring in needed doctors when not transporting patients.

“Once again Everett Buick GMC has made several vehicles available to transport staff, and there will be more ambulance crews available, and we have chains for the ambulances,” Blackwell said. “With ice, traveling is slower, and we don’t want a call to come in while everyone is out on the road.”

If needed at the hospital, Blackwell said, the Saline County Road Department was making sand trucks available to keep the roads leading to Saline Memorial open, and sand was made available to use on the hospital’s parking lot.

“We also covered the helipad so that it could be cleared quickly if a landing is needed,” Blackwell said.

Not only was Saline Memorial well stocked with medical supplies during the week, Blackwell said, but additional supplies are being held in an off-site location for emergency use.

“There is no option of shutting down,” she said. “We have a responsibility to the safety of the community.”

The National Weather Service first issued a Winter Storm Warning on Wednesday that covered Saline County, predicting ice accumulations of a quarter to half inch, with some areas expected to receive even higher amounts. Personnel from hospitals and local law enforcement were meeting with the Saline County Emergency Management Office.

The organizations encourage residents to be prepared for the winter precipitation predicted to hit the region by Friday morning. One of the most serious concerns is that the ice could cause areas to lose power. Blackwell said officials are especially concerned for the more rural areas of north Saline County, where ice accumulations could be higher.

In Bryant, Police Chief Mark Kizer said his department started making sure the four-wheel vehicles were ready to take to the road.

“We have three Hummers, along with four trucks and utility vehicles,” the chief said. “The city is split by Interstate 30, and we want to make sure people can get to shelters if they lose power.”

Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs had plans to designate a location as a warming shelter for residents who lose power.

Kizer said the mayor would contact power companies about the emergency locations so they would be high priority for repair should the warming shelters experience a power outage.

Meanwhile, the chief said he is going to the miss the excitement because he will be in the hospital for throat surgery that was scheduled for Thursday.

“It was not planned,” Kizer said. “They have found some growths, and I am told I will be out for as much as four weeks.”

The Hot Springs area was included in a Winter Storm Watch then an Ice Storm Warning before deadline, and Mercy Hospital Hot Springs starting alerting its staff about emergency operations on Wednesday.

“We are right on the line for the storm, but we are ready,” Jeff Slatton, spokesman for the hospital, said Wednesday. “We have supplies for several days held for emergencies like this.”

He said Mercy has arrangements when bad weather strikes to house nurses and other medical personnel in hotels near the medical center, and arrangements are made to transport the personnel to their shifts.

Malvern and Arkadelphia were both believed to be south of the brunt of the storm based on forecast early Thursday, but Hot Spring County Medical Center administrators have watched the weather reports closely all week, said Ann Gaspar, marketing director of the hospital in Malvern.

“We have standing plans for operations in inclement weather and took basic precautions earlier in the week,” she said. “We make sure there is gas for the ambulances and other vehicles, as well as our emergency generators.”

In Arkadelphia, Henderson State University spokesman Steve Fellers said HSU officials had been keeping watch on the weather all week.

“We have established procedures for when the school has to be closed because of weather,” he said. “The plan includes closing the school early so that everybody can get home safe.”

Fellers said classes were ending and that end-of-the-term exams would begin Monday.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be contacted at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansas online.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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