When Albert Lee woke up at 5 a.m. on Monday and looked out the window to see his yard coated in white snow, his first thought was that he should have parked his car on the street level the night before rather than in his garage.
Without a snow shovel and with his car parked at the top of a hill, the pharmacy operations manager for North Central Baptist Hospital knew he wasn’t going to be able to make the 5-mile drive from his house in Inwood to work. So after putting on as many layers over his scrubs as he could, Lee started walking.
Across the highway, ICU nurse Kristen Knott was also getting ready to leave for her shift at North Central Baptist Hospital. The 26-year-old, who has been working in COVID-19 intensive care units for the past year, said she drove slowly and steadily to work that morning. Shortly after arriving at the hospital, she got a text from a co-worker whose car had gotten stuck in the snow.
Knott said she went back out to pick up the co-worker so the hospital wouldn’t be short-staffed for the day shift.
“After I picked her up from the hotel she was staying in, I saw someone walking in the snow by themselves and wondered why anybody would be walking in the snow.”
That person was Lee. Knott pulled over to ask where he was going. When she found out he was going to the hospital as well, she offered Lee a ride.
“I’d already been walking for about two hours, I’d walked about four miles,” Lee said. “I was just so relieved. Just like, ‘Oh my God, thank you.’ I knew it’s just like a mile away now but I was just like, ‘Thank you for picking me up.’”
Despite the freezing wind chills and miles of snow to trudge through, Lee said he knew he had to go to work. Lee is responsible for multiple patient pharmacy operations from the hospital’s North Central location and oversees the mixing of IV bags and chemotherapy.
“As a leader, it’s not enough to talk the talk – you’ve got to walk the walk, you know … and lead by example,” Lee said.
With approximately 750 people hospitalized in Bexar County for COVID-19 as of Saturday, health care workers still have significant workloads. Knott said she and other health care workers feel responsible for helping each other out.
“Hospitals don’t close down with snow. There are still sick people,” she said. “I can’t just call into work, there are nurses who need relief. If I don’t show up to work, the nurse-to-patient ratio could become dangerously high.”
When snow started falling Sunday evening, many on staff found themselves stranded at work or unwilling to risk the drive home. In an effort to keep staff safe, health systems across San Antonio have offered their staff hotel rooms, staff beds, meal vouchers, and shower facilities.
All Baptist Health hospitals have remained fully staffed over the past few days, said Natalie Gutierrez, spokeswoman for Tenet Health, which oversees Baptist Health. Essential workers are being provided on-site lodging if needed, she said.
Methodist Healthcare System has had an emergency plan in place since Sunday to “provide uninterrupted patient care,” said communications manager Melissa Geedman.
“At this time, we are staffed and well-supplied to safely care for both non-COVID and COVID patients,” she said. “The safety of our employees is our top priority.”
“We are offering lodging accommodations onsite or at nearby hotels, if needed, as well as meal vouchers and shower facilities,” Geedman said. “We are also providing ride share services and have volunteers commuting employees to and from work. Staff who choose to drive to work are being directed to the safest routes possible.”
At University Hospital, many employees have stayed at the hospital to avoid driving in the icy conditions, said UHS spokeswoman Elizabeth Allen.
“Nurses, residents, technicians, environmental services, food services, all kinds of people in the many, many roles it takes to keep a hospital up and running have gone out of their way and worked extra hours,” Allen said. “A handful of food service workers worked 24 hours straight to cover for others and made sure people got fed.”
Beds and recliner chairs were made available to hospital staff in a sectioned off area, Allen said.
“The dedication we have seen from so many areas of the organization is extraordinary,” she added.
University has seen a number of patients with ice-related injuries, she said. Falls and minor injuries have been common, along with concussions and fractures, Allen said. There have also been a few cases of hypothermia and of cold exposure.
“Staffing is at a lower number than usual but thanks to the people who stayed overnight at the hospital, and the fact that overall ER volume is down, we are in good shape to continue providing service,” Allen said.
Another bout of icy showers is expected to pass through San Antonio Wednesday night. Health care workers ask residents to stay inside and off roads if possible.
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