Local response saved lives


EAMC, local agencies, neighbors worked together to minimize loss of life

By Kelly Daniel
For the Opelika

After a tornado left a swath of tremendous devastation and loss in portions of Lee County on March 3, East Alabama Medical Center demonstrated proactive leadership that was vital to ensuring that injured survivors received the care they needed.
Bruce Zartman, who serves as EAMC’s vice president of Supply Chain and Perioperative Services and incident commander, described his unit’s response to the situation.
“About 10 to 15 minutes after the tornado touched down and we began to hear damage reports from the field, we implemented our disaster plan and stood up our full incident command center. The Incident Command Center provided a communications link for all of the various activities occurring throughout the organization,” Zartman said.
Despite the shock and sadness that was felt by many in Lee County, EAMC employees worked tirelessly to help in the efforts to care for the victims of the storm.
“This was a tragic and difficult day for so many people in our community, and it affected our staff in a profound way, too. For several hours straight, it was all hands on deck as we received around 60 patients from the tornado,” said EAMC director of public relations and marketing John Atkinson. “As has been reported, one young patient died after arriving at the hospital – that was extremely difficult. Plus, one of the 23 deaths reported from the tornadoes was our own Maggie Robinson, who had worked with us for nearly 40 years.”
Those working with Emergency Medical Services were among the first to see the extent of the devastation and to care for victims.
“On arrival to the scene it was almost like ‘Is this a dream? Did this really happen?’ However, amid the devastation and tragedy, emergency workers showed bravery and resolve,” said EMS manager Austin Bayles said.
“As a first responder, you know time is of the essence in finding the injured in order to limit loss of life. This is when your years of experience and training kicks in,” Bayles added. “First responders are like a family and always there to go the extra mile with you, so it was no surprise that when more help was needed, surrounding counties and agencies responded with people, ambulances and equipment. They responded with a look of determination on their faces and a sense of camaraderie that bonds us as first responders, and for that, I am thankful and forever appreciative.”
As emergency responders rescued victims and provided initial treatment, the emergency department and other patient care areas prepared so that they were ready to meet the influx of injured tornado survivors.
“The Emergency Department was the most affected; however, numerous other areas were significantly impacted in support of the volume of patients and family members. We quickly realized we would need to establish several alternate care sites within the hospital to care for patients as they came through the ED,” Zartman said. “These were clinical areas, but not ones that are normally staffed on Sundays. Additional clinical staff, including nurses and physicians, were called in to provide patient care in these areas.”
In addition, a mobile healthcare clinic was sent to the areas that had faced destruction, treating victims and volunteers alike free of charge, with updates on the mobile clinic’s location posted to Facebook.
The joining of cold and hot air masses in the wrong way can instantly cause unspeakable loss. Natural disasters like the two tornadoes that hit Lee County on March 3 could happen to anyone, anywhere.
Whenever a disaster happens, but especially in tight-knit communities like Lee County, everyone’s hearts go out to those affected, in the form of prayers but also in the form of compassionate action to help the survivors as they carry on.
In a Facebook post March 4, the hospital issued a response to numerous questions on how to contribute to relief efforts. The EAMC Foundation has set up a link for donations to the Lee County Disaster Relief Fund at https://eamcfoundation8686.thankyou4caring.org/lee-county
“(We) are helping to facilitate support for those who lost most, if not everything, by collecting funds through our EAMC Foundation. As of (March 15), we have received 144 donations totaling $231,608,” Atkinson said. “This includes the money given by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and Demarcus Ware for the funerals and grave markers. People wishing to donate can visit eamcfoundation.org.”
The effective response of the organization was in large part the result of the determination and compassion of those working at EAMC.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of our paramedics and EMTs who played such a critical role in the field that definitely saved lives. Also, in the Emergency Department, our nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners, MCTs, and registration reps all demonstrated such calm, compassion and outstanding clinical skills necessary to care for the large amount of injured who quickly surged into the department,” said Sharon Gess, director of the Emergency Department and the Emergency Medical Services Ambulance Department. E
EAMC’s rapid response to the tornado was also the result of long-term disaster preparedness planning. Randy Causey, EAMC’s director of Support Services and safety officer, explained that process.
“A few years ago, I realized our emergency management team needed to grow, and subsequently, I included representation from every department in the organization. Each department must plan their individual objectives and I plan the drills around their objectives,” Causey said. “The directors and managers have moved into the role of drill planners and I serve to develop and facilitate each drill. We have drilled for tornadoes on many occasions and also tested the need for opening multiple outpatient departments to serve as alternate care sites.”
For more information or to donate, visit https://eamcfoundation8686.thankyou4caring.org/lee-county.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here