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January 13, 2011

Mass. EMS responders, hospital crew work on snow day

By Erin Smith
The Lowell Sun

LOWELL, Mass. — Roxana Phal woke up with a start at 3:30 a.m. yesterday. She was in labor, and the snow was falling in sheets.

Her boyfriend, 24-year-old Mark Ream, drove her to Lowell General Hospital from their Cross Street home in the city. A five-minute drive turned into a 30-minute ordeal.

"I started getting worried we were going to have to get an ambulance," said Phal, a 22-year-old Lowell native.

While many people stayed home from work yesterday — or were ordered to stay home — life must go on for hospital workers, plow drivers and almost anyone providing an essential service.

"Today, for us, is just like any other day. It just took us longer to get to work," said Amy Hoey, chief nursing officer at Lowell General. "Really, to keep a hospital running, almost everyone is essential."

That includes lab workers, housekeeping, cafeteria workers and maintenance crews to plow hospital driveways, she said.

Like most hospitals, Lowell General offers workers a place to sleep during big storms. Several staff members stayed overnight to make sure they were at work on time yesterday morning, Hoey said.

Hoey, who lives in Groton, said she stayed at the hospital overnight on the Sunday after Christmas to skip the snowy commute during the last storm.

Joyce Welsh, interim chief nursing officer at Emerson Hospital in Concord, said medical staff start preparing for a storm several days in advance. About a dozen members of the medical staff spent the night at the hospital to be in for work yesterday morning while others braved the slippery roads, Welsh said.

"I had some nurses tell me they got up at 4 in the morning and cleaned off their cars to get in," said Welsh. "Even our patients that had scheduled surgeries — they all made it."

So did several hospital volunteers, according to Welsh.

"I made plans so I could be here today," Welsh said yesterday after staying overnight at the nearby Best Western. "If we want to have our staff here, I need to be here too."

The emergency room at Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer was quiet yesterday afternoon. Hospital officials said they expected to see more patients later in the day as people began shoveling out and the roads were plowed.

"We're definitely here and open," said Steve Roach, Nashoba Valley's CEO. "Everybody who was expected to be here is here."

A full staff of ambulance workers was on hand at Lowell-based Trinity EMS, according to Rick Barry, director of operations.

Workers streamed in for shifts starting at 6, 7 or 8 a.m. yesterday during "nightmare" conditions, he said.

"We have a few of these storms every year, so we're kind of acclimated to them," said Barry. "The biggest challenge we have is the unshoveled walkways and sidewalks because we're trying to extricate our patients from the homes and shield them from the elements."

Workers at Pridestar EMS helped shuttle nurses to work at local nursing homes and hospitals, according to Matthew Libby, director of operations at the Lowell company.

Libby said he brought in extra workers — about 20 paramedics total — to help with the increase in requests to deliver patients from the Lowell area to Boston — and Metrowest-area hospitals. Not many people drive that far in the snow, Libby said.

"Today has been a little busier than usual, but we plan for that," he said.

Back at Lowell General, Talyda Ream was born 7:59 a.m., 6 pounds, 11 ounces. Phal said she wasn't due to give birth to Talyda, her third child, until Tuesday. She said her unexpected arrival at the hospital prompted some concern that incoming nurses may not arrive in time for the 7 a.m. shift change, "but when they showed up, everyone clapped."

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