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Fire Response Shows the Value of Being a Health System

By Dr. David C. Pate, News and Community
September 9, 2013

One of the main responsibilities of leaders is to inspire others to action. That said, I have had the great opportunity to lead healthcare organizations and very often, I find that it is the employees who inspire me.

Everyday heroes. That is what our St. Luke’s Wood River staff, leaders, and physicians are. I wrote an earlier blog post to commend their service and have asked Cody Langbehn, our St. Luke’s Wood River chief executive officer, to serve as today’s guest blogger. He’ll tell you more about the heroism of our wonderful employees and what it meant for the patients we were privileged to serve.

I know many of you have heard about the Beaver Creek Fire that ravaged the picturesque landscapes and tested the resiliency of the people of the Wood River Valley for a little over three weeks earlier this summer. 

On behalf of our team, I’d like to say thank you to Dr. Pate for his Aug. 19 blog post. He spoke about many of the extraordinary efforts of St. Luke’s staff from across the region, who collectively pulled together to ensure our community members, visitors, and the brave firefighters battling the blaze in our area would have access to emergency care if and when they needed it.

I echo Dr. Pate’s sentiments about the heroes who emerged and just how proud I am of all the staff for their commitment and dedication to caring for their fellow human beings in a time of crisis. 

I’ll be honest with you. There were some pretty scary and tense times in those days when the fire made its big push towards the heavily populated canyons of the Wood River Valley, including the one in which St. Luke’s Wood River is situated. 

I specifically remember being approached by our local fire chief, a member of the fire team’s unified command, who told me that they were issuing evacuation orders for the entire area surrounding the hospital. 

In his next breath, he said, “This excludes the hospital. We need you to stay open for our firefighters and our community.” 

I relayed this charge to our employees later that day, and I was impressed with their reaction.  In spite of being asked to possibly “shelter in place” if the fire were to approach the area immediately surrounding the hospital, staff members were courageous in their responses as one after the other stepped up and volunteered to work shifts. 

Not only did staff members working at the hospital have to worry about the status of the approaching flames and the safety of our patients, many of them also had to worry about their personal residences and the safety of their families as more and more evacuation orders were issued throughout the area. This reminded me of just how special the people are that I have the privilege to work with every day.

The other thing that became evident during the fire was how being part of the larger St. Luke’s Health System enabled St. Luke’s Wood River to better respond to the unpredictable and extreme circumstances we encountered. 

From the minute we made the call to transfer all inpatients, we had resources from across the System being deployed to make it happen. Air St. Luke’s, along with St. Luke’s Magic Valley ambulance crews, leapt into action and did a great job of preparing and transporting patients to St. Luke’s Magic Valley. 

These crews also rearranged their home base schedules to camp out at the hospital and be available for emergent transfers that might have been needed, since most of the local EMS crews were serving on the fire lines.

One patient who was transferred took the time to return to the hospital after he was discharged prior to returning to his home in Iowa to thank the staff for the care he received throughout the entire ordeal. 

He specifically called out the nursing staff who helped prepare him for the evacuation, the cleaning staff for how they made the room sparkle and checked in with him to see if they could do anything else for him prior to proceeding on to clean another room, and the rest of the staff for how quickly and completely they performed their tasks as they readied him for transfer.

The physicians and other clinicians on the receiving end of our patient transfers were extremely accommodating and made sure the care transitions were seamless for our patients. Obstetrics and our specialty departments worked with our clinical leadership team here to define care guidelines and develop contingency plans for moms who might present to our emergency room in various stages of labor, knowing that we might or might not be able to transfer them if the need arose.

The St. Luke’s Home Care department offered to do home assessments on patients with respiratory conditions or who might be isolated and vulnerable.

And throughout, we were in constant contact with St. Luke’s Health System leadership. We never truly felt alone because we knew we had the support and resources of the entire System at our disposal to help us Take Care Forward, even in a time of crisis.

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.

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