During a winter storm, having a clear sense of purpose means patients at Arkansas Children's still get the care they deserve regardless of the weather. Our core values - safety, teamwork, compassion and excellence - guided the decisions and work of all Arkansas Children's team members when winter weather covered the state in early February. These are just a few examples of the commitment of our team members.
A Heart Transplanted
As ice and snow became certainties in the forecast, the Cardiovascular Surgery team faced a dilemma - dangerous weather and a donated heart were forecast to arrive at nearly the same time. Timing is crucial with organ transplants. The donated heart was coming from out of state. If ice and snow had arrived earlier than expected, it could have delayed safe delivery of the organ to the hospital.
"Safety was the top priority," said Stephanie Rockett, director of patient care services in the department of Cardiovascular Surgery. Once the team knew the heart and those transporting it could make it safely via plane and ambulance to the hospital, they discussed how best to adjust to the weather.
“They were looking at every step of the trip to minimize downtime and get the team back as quickly as possible,” Rockett said.
One critical decision the team made was keeping the plane in a hangar instead of on the runway while waiting for the heart. Not needing to de-ice the plane saved valuable minutes.
The careful planning and communication paid off. The team returned safely with the donated heart. The transplant team worked through the night, and the transplant was a success.
Transporting Care to Patients
Sleet in Little Rock and snow in Springdale didn't stop the Angel One patient transport team from delivering specialized pediatric care. For the Angel One team, a day at work usually means getting patients to Arkansas Children's Hospital while providing critical care in a helicopter or ambulance. When winter weather descended on the state, plans had to be rapidly adjusted.
A patient in acute respiratory distress needed care, but the three-hour ambulance drive from Little Rock was too icy when the call for transport came. An Angel One physician took action, providing specific guidance on intubating a child via telemedicine. The stabilized patient was safely retrieved by Angel One as soon as the roads were passable.
Remote collaboration was critical for another patient in northwest Arkansas that was too ill to be transported to ACNW with snow on the roads. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life-threatening complication of diabetes, is treated differently in kids than adults. When the child experiencing DKA couldn't be taken to our pediatric specialists, an Angel One PICU physician worked remotely with the referring physician to lower the child's blood sugar. After the PICU team handled the immediate threat, ACH endocrinologists worked with physicians at ACNW to create a plan for continuing care.
"It was really an excellent display of collaboration. Everything done was above and beyond anyone's expectations," said Kirsten Johnston, director of patient care services in the department of Transport Services.
Keeping Surgeries on Schedule
Arkansas Children's Hospital doctors perform dozens of surgeries every day. Many of those surgeries are time-sensitive and cannot be delayed. When dangerous weather entered the forecast, the perioperative team began preparations for keeping surgeries on schedule. Providing family-centered care meant being flexible enough to let families decide whether they felt safe traveling to ACH. Some families had already traveled to Little Rock. Some opted to delay non-urgent surgery. Others knew they could get safely to the hospital before the roads iced but were worried about getting home after the procedure.
Angela Rowe, perioperative services director for the department of Surgery Administration, said every family on the schedule received a call.
"We know that surgery is a stressful thing for a lot of patients and families. There's a lot of preparation that goes into surgery, whether it's mental or physical preparation or getting babysitters lined up for additional siblings," Rowe said. "We want to be mindful of that."
Meeting the unique needs of each family meant being ready to conduct the surgery as scheduled, being flexible enough to delay surgery or arranging discounted hotel rooms or a stay at the Ronald McDonald House.
The surgical team member's housing needs were also a concern. Some team members opted to arrive hours or days before their scheduled shift rather than risk being unable to get to the hospital to care for their patients. Those doctors, nurses and child life specialists also needed places to stay.
Despite the shifting and coordinating, the perioperative team started 100% of the day's first surgeries on time when the worst of the weather had shut down much of the city. And only when a family requested it was a surgery postponed or canceled. Every family that chose to continue as planned got the excellent pediatric care they needed.
Supporting Each Other
Heart transplants, patient transports, and surgeries can continue during a threatened power outage because we have teams of people preparing for weather-related emergencies before they become emergencies. Teams regularly test our backup generators to ensure that a frozen branch falling on a power line doesn't interrupt power to the hospital. Physicians can focus on delivering expert pediatric care because they don't have to be concerned about losing electricity at a critical moment.
And when staff and patients have unexpected extended stays at the hospital, the cafeteria quickly adjusts to keep everyone well-fed. The compassionate care we give our patients extends to each other as we support colleagues in various ways.
Safety, Teamwork, Compassion and Excellence – those are our commitments to our patients and our team members in every kind of weather.