Georgia hospitals brave Irma with generators, slumber parties

As the worst of Irma neared the end of its path in Georgia Monday evening, many hospitals breathed a sigh of relief.

It wasn’t an easy day: Several Georgia hospitals went to backup generators at some point, including Emory Healthcare’s orthopedics and spine hospital. More than 200 patients of nursing homes and hospitals were evacuated.

Emory’s loss of normal power was brief, as were some others’. But some went for hours on their generators.

However, the devastation some feared seemed, as evening drew close, to be largely avoided by the state’s main health care facilities.

“Thankfully, Irma did not pack the punch that was forecast for our area,” said Ben Roberts, a spokesman for Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, which stood smack in the storm’s path. That hospital suffered some leaks, and an office tower was on generator power for a while.

Major Atlanta hospitals canceled elective and outpatient care during all or part of Monday. They also had to deal with the shutdown of metro Atlanta transit service, including MARTA, stranding workers who depend on buses and trains to commute.

However, with other employees stepping up to fill the gaps, staffing was largely uninterrupted, spokespeople for Grady, Emory and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said.

“Most people arrived early for their shift, and others said they were prepared to stay late,” said Chrissie Gallentine, a spokeswoman for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

In Albany, Phoebe Putney worked to prepare. The facility hosted 400 employees overnight on empty hospital beds, and cots in offices, random spaces and the gym. They played trivia games and awarded prizes, Roberts said, trying for a “slumber party” atmosphere. On Monday those workers were released early to go home.

At least eight Georgia hospitals went to backup generators at some point, according to the Georgia Hospital Association and hospital officials. Emory’s diversion from normal power was brief, as were some others’. But Brooks County Hospital in Quitman went was on generators for eight hours, said Mark Lowe, a vice president at the hospital’s system. Operations were uninterrupted though, all who were interviewed said.

As relieved employees left the hospital in Albany, one family unexpectedly had to come and stay. They’re not complaining though.

David and Shekima Stephens evacuated from Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday, expecting to return next week for an appointment to induce labor for their coming son, Daxton. Daxton had other plans.

As the storm bore down, so did he, and at 6:10 a.m. Shekima felt a contraction.

“We were just laying there and she’s like, ‘Wait a minute, I think something’s going to happen.’” said David Stephens. “I was like, ‘No you’re not.’”

She gave birth at Phoebe Putney at the height of the storm.

“It was whistling,” said David Stephens, who heard the storm through the windows as Daxton was born.

“The storm, and then him going on nine-eleven: I’m like, he came in at a disaster time!” Stephens laughed. “Everybody’s like, ‘He’s going to be a bad little boy. He came in out of a disaster.’ I’m hoping he came to change everything around.”