How Piedmont Columbus Regional responded to tornado disaster
What began as a slower-than-usual Sunday in a local hospital’s emergency department suddenly changed when devastating torndaoes ripped through the area, killing 23 and seriously injuring more.
Piedmont Columbus Midtown received more than 20 patients as a result of the March 3, 2019, tornado outbreak. They treated patients with conditions ranging from lacerations, broken bones, respiratory distress and head injuries to critical injuries.
Michael Zimmermann, executive director of operations and emergency services for Piedmont Columbus Regional, said before the tornado outbreak the emergency department saw fewer patients than on comparable Sundays, speculating it was caused by people being mindful of the weather and staying home.
Nurses and doctors began seeing patients arrive around 1:30 to 2 p.m. EST, most from East Alabama. He said some patients were injured when their homes were damaged or destroyed, and some were involved in automobile accidents in the affected areas.
“A lot of the reason why we got patients is because of our acuity level and our capabilities as far as being a Level II Trauma Center,” Zimmermann said. ”We have a legacy of trauma care for this region and we are capable of being able to manage a large number of different types of injuries because of that.”
The hospital has three levels of response for such situations, with the hospital using a level two response on March 3, Zimmermann said. “We called specific individuals to help us with the types of patients we were anticipating,“ Zimmermann said. “So we brought in some leadership, we brought in additional imaging staff, and some of the care team staff that we thought we would need to be here and prepared to receive patients.”
Zimmermann said with gaps in immediate trauma care in rural areas of Alabama and Georgia, it’s not uncommon for Piedmont Columbus Regional to receive trauma patients.
“It really makes a big difference. It’s a huge blessing that we have this level two trauma center in West Georgia,” Zimmermann said.
Since the storm Piedmont has focused attention on its employees, many of whom were impacted by the storm and its aftermath.
“Our hearts go out to everyone that was impacted and involved,” Zimmermann said. “We had employees that were impacted significantly by this event and we are very concerned about them.”
He said some have lost family members, and some living in East Alabama have lost homes or had their homes damaged. As school districts in the surrounding areas closed because of the storm, some simply needed daycare for their own children.
Zimmerman said they are now gathering data for a final debrief.
“We look at that and see if there is anything we could have done differently, better, as far as preparation, as far as the way we responded and mitigated, and absolutely making sure that we’re checking on all those caregivers that provided that care and making sure that they’re whole as well.” Zimmerman said.
“We don’t feel like we’re done with this,” Zimmermann continued. “It’s not just that the event occurred and we embraced the individual who were acutely or severely injured. That’s the acute part of that event, but I think we’re still in the secondary, recovery phase right now and we haven’t finished that.”