With Hurricane Ian approaching the west coast of Florida on Sept. 28, hospital laboratories in the predicted path scrambled to be ready for the worst. That was true at Tampa General Hospital, where the hospital’s clinical lab team went on high alert.
Angela Lauster, Senior Laboratory Administrative Director at 1,041-bed Tampa General, recounted steps the lab took to brace for the storm.
“Our hospital lab designated two teams for hurricane staffing,” she said. “Team A was onsite during the storm, while Team B relieved the other group once Ian blew by.”
As such, members of Team A—including Lauster—stayed at the hospital for three days straight. Team A designees needed to be comfortable leaving their families, homes, and pets behind for several days.
Caring for those lab workers onsite was paramount to Lauster. “The lab made sure that employees still got their nutrition, that they were hydrated, and that they had a quiet place to sleep,” she explained.
She got creative with spaces to sleep, thanks in part to the pathologists. “We have 13 pathologists, and only one of them came in and worked during the storm as the on-call pathologist,” she recalled. “So, the other pathologists loaned their offices to the lab for Team A sleeping.
“We created a schedule where, during a given 12 hours during the storm, one person had a pathologist’s office. Then, during the next 12 hours, another person had the office,” Lauster added. “We also took our medical residents’ room and converted it into sleeping quarters. Similarly, we took our conference room and converted it into sleeping quarters.”
As lab director, Lauster is always on Team A and she ensures that at least two of her eight managers also are on that team. “I make sure I’ve got enough managers here during an event, so that if I need extra leaders to help, the hospital is covered,” she said.
Air Conditioning Advice
Tampa General is located on Davis Island in Tampa Bay, with two roads into the property. Flooding and power loss have long been concerns during storms.
Earlier this year, the hospital opened a new power plant 33 feet above sea level that is designed to withstand Category 5 hurricane winds. While smaller hospitals and medical labs may not be able to afford such actions, the forward thinking of Tampa General in relation to its location is an activity other sites can emulate.
From a practical sense, Lauster offered a tip to all labs that rely on air conditioning to keep instruments cool: Ensure that A/C is either always tied into emergency power lines or that hospitals have a plan to bring in portable air conditioners that can tap into power generators.
“Labs sometimes forget that air conditioning is not always attached to emergency power,” she said. “Clinical labs must be thinking about this and planning year-round. Labs can’t do it a week before an emergency event.”
Contact Angela Lauster, MBA, DLM(ASCP), MT(AMT) at firstname.lastname@example.org.