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The Heroes of Wood River: 'What St. Luke's is all about.'

By Dr. David C. Pate, News and Community
August 19, 2013


I want to recognize the bravery, commitment, and caring of our St. Luke’s Wood River team. 

Faced with a very large and aggressive fire in the surrounding area, these outstanding leaders, staff members, and physicians put their own safety and concerns for their families, property, homes, and in some cases, pets, aside in order to demonstrate their commitment to serving the firefighters and the people of their communities at a time of greatest need. 

These people are St. Luke’s heroes. There are many stories, and unfortunately, I only know of a few at this early point in time. They all deserve our praise and thanks, but I will share a few of the stories I know of. And I would really appreciate your sharing your stories of heroism, care, and caring during the fire by sending comments to this post. That way, everyone can get the recognition due.

Under the capable and inspiring leadership of our St. Luke’s Wood River CEO, Cody Langbehn, the entire team rallied to ensure that all patients were safe, that the staffing needs of the hospital could be met, and that the Emergency Room could be kept open. Cody’s calm and confident demeanor is a key to instilling that same calmness and confidence in his team.  

My blog editor, Roya Camp, was in Wood River helping to prepare materials for our upcoming fall forum presentations and she witnessed the leadership.

Here is what she told me: “The people behind the scenes, who don’t wear scrubs or see patients in the routine of their days, were incredibly professional. If patients could see how much deliberation went into their decision-making, they would be blown away. All decisions were well thought out and discussed. They operated as a team, not losing patience, and staying clear on job one:  patient safety and satisfaction.”

Jo Dee Alverson, director of emergency management, displayed this same calm and control as she stood watch through the night Thursday to provide reassurance to all staff members, patients, and their families. 

Terri Hunter and Karen Hawkes, managers of St. Luke’s Clinics, readied our Hailey Clinic to receive people who might become sick while evacuating the Wood River Valley and to extend our hours of service there so that the hospital could focus on the truly emergency cases that required the resources of the emergency room, given the hospital’s closer proximity to the fire and smoke.

Clinic staff and physicians, specifically Emily Karrasik, PA, and Dr. Leigh Morse, who made themselves available over the weekend, stepped up and provided that needed additional access, along with the medical care and caring for which we are known. The pride of being able to serve their communities in a time of serious need was evident, as was their compassion for those they cared for. 

We expect leaders to step up; that is what true leaders do. 

However, it is the staff who always amaze and inspire me. I cannot describe the selflessness of staff who report to work to help care for their communities even though they are worried for their own families and property. We had a number of staff members who found shelter for their families and then called to see if they could come and help at the hospital. Many offered up their own homes in areas that were not subject to the evacuation to those who lived in areas that were. 

We had many staff members who worked their full shifts, and then volunteered to spend the night in the hospital to ensure that they could be there the next day to help.

To provide accountable care to our patients, our clinic nurses have been calling to check on patients with known respiratory illnesses, to remind them to stay indoors and to check on the control of their symptoms. That is true care coordination, and may be why we had a much lower number of patients seeking emergency care for respiratory distress than we would have anticipated. 

We saw another example of care coordination and management of care transitions with our home care staff and nurses. Wow. Imagine the dedication of being out in the traffic, going in and out of homes in the smoke-filled air, all to ensure that the patients that we care for at home are doing well and to determine what assistance they might need.

Additional unsung heroes are our physicians. We had physicians coming in to offer their help on their days off, and some offered to stay in the hospital to ensure they would be available for calls or emergencies. 

And so many people worked behind the scenes to care for our caregivers, so that they could focus on our patients. Our food and nutrition staff worked tirelessly to prepare meals for their co-workers and those who were working extra hours to care for our patients. 

Alex Hagen, building services supervisor, and the St. Luke’s Wood River building and maintenance staff are amazingly committed. They have dealt with the additional challenges of continually adjusting the air handling systems of the hospital to minimize the amount of smoke that would get into the hospital’s air circulation and ensured, together with all the amazing firefighters, that the perimeter of the building is safe and secure from the fire.

While I know I am leaving many out, and many just did what needed to be done and were not directly noticed, I cannot end this tribute without crediting our

outstanding Air St. Luke’s team

Air St. Luke’s is so much more than just an air ambulance service. They have expertise and training in handling many emergency situations, and their help in planning for the safe transfer of St. Luke’s Wood River patients via Air St. Luke’s ground ambulances to St. Luke’s Magic Valley was extremely helpful and reassuring, since helicopters were not an option due to the visibility issues from the smoke. 

Air St. Luke’s provided additional transport teams to make this happen, and all of our patients were safely and seamlessly transferred to Magic Valley, just more evidence of how a health system acting and coordinating care as a true health system benefits our communities so significantly. 

One quick last story. At one point, a person involved in the fire operations suffered a cardiac arrest. The firefighters, local EMS, and St. Luke’s had just reviewed our capabilities and care coordination the day before and were prepared.

Local EMS instituted resuscitative protocols and transported the patient, regaining a cardiac rhythm en route to the hospital. The patient was transferred to St. Luke’s Magic Valley after initiation of our advanced protocols which involve support of the breathing for the patient and institution of a coma-like state with body cooling to preserve brain function. 

I am pleased to report that because of the coordinated care by all of these teams of dedicated emergency personnel, the patient is expected to make a full and complete recovery. 

I close with a great comment from St. Luke’s Wood River CEO Cody Langbehn: “What makes community hospitals so special is the true feeling of family among the staff. I would like to thank each and every one of the staff at SLWR for their commitment to the patients of the WR Valley and for being a model of how to Take Care Forward in a time of crisis.” 

I couldn’t say it better myself. Thanks to all our St. Luke’s heroes for your extraordinary care and caring.  You are what St. Luke’s is all about.

About The Author

David C. Pate, M.D., J.D., is president and CEO of St. Luke's Health System, based in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Pate joined the System in 2009. He received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.

Related Clinic

St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center
Street Address: 100 Hospital Dr.
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 100
Ketchum, ID 83340
(208) 727-8800