Blizzard 2011: Staff and Faculty Rise to The Challenge

Photo by John Easton

Cots in the fourth floor atrium of the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine on February 1 during the snow blizzard. The University of Chicago Medical Center provided 271 cots for staff, all of which were used.

By Jennifer Martin

Senior leaders praised employees and medical caregivers who made it possible for the Medical Center to remain open during the blizzard that began Tuesday afternoon and shut down much of the city through Thursday. In an e-mail to staff and faculty, Kenneth Polonsky, MD, acknowledged the “extraordinary efforts” to provide outstanding care to patients during the blizzard.

“The detailed planning and care required to ensure continuity of clinical operations were particularly impressive,” said Polonsky, dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine and executive vice president for Medical Affairs. “I also would like to acknowledge the personal sacrifices made by many of you who stayed overnight in the Medical Center to cover clinical services throughout the storm.”

The Medical Center provided 271 cots for staff, and all cots were full on Tuesday night. “Many more slept in their offices or other hospital sites and remained on duty for multiple shifts,” he said.

Polonsky noted many achievements that required dedication and excellent planning:

  • Nurses responded to a call for additional staff and filled the needed slots. This enabled many employees who worked multiple or extended shifts Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning to receive a needed break.
  • Administrators anticipated reopening all clinics in the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine (DCAM) on Friday, February 4. A few were open Thursday, including infusion therapy and radiation therapy for oncology patients, as well as the urgent care clinic. Senior leaders anticipated about 400 patient visits to DCAM on Thursday.
  • The general operating rooms and those in Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago were open Thursday at 8 a.m., running on time, with nearly 30 cases scheduled, and more expected.

During the snowstorm, the Medical Center made free meals available to staff, as well as cots, pillows and blankets, in the DCAM atrium. Showers were open at the Ratner Gymnasium locker rooms for staff working overnight. Also, the DCAM Food Court and Au Bon Pain remained open for staff and visitors. Occupational Health supplied single doses of medication for staff who chose to stay overnight but did not have needed medications with them.

A final free meal for staff was planned for Thursday evening, in DCAM, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“Over the last 36 hours, our staff have performed heroically, many working extended shifts,” said Carolyn Wilson, RN, chief operating officer. “Several hundred spent the night at the Medical Center. We cannot thank them enough and we are working to relieve as many of them as possible by bringing in fresh staff.”

Polonsky said the ability to continue operating required a team effort that involved the institution broadly and included the clinical departments in the Division of the Biological Sciences, the departments and units within the Medical Center, the clinical residency and fellowship programs and the leadership in both the Division of the Biological Sciences and the Medical Center.

“The level of cooperation and collegiality across many different aspects of the organization was particularly noteworthy,” he said. “This extraordinary level of commitment to continue to deliver high-quality care to our patients even under adverse circumstances is something that should be a source of great pride and satisfaction to all of us.”