UChicago Medicine staff step up during extreme cold weather

CCD sign in winter

During Chicago’s most recent deep freeze, teams across the University of Chicago Medicine rallied their resources to ensure there was little to no disruption to hospital operations. Here are just a few examples of dedication and commitment to patient care during the coldest of cold spells.

A special delivery

After a pregnant patient with heart muscle problems was seen over the previous weekend, physicians determined she’d need an intra-aortic balloon pump before she could safely deliver her baby. Without the pump, delivery could trigger the patient into having potentially fatal cardiac failure.

She was admitted on Friday, January 25 for an unrelated injury and had no previous prenatal care. Using specialized imaging techniques, obstetricians determined she was about 34 to 35 weeks pregnant and needed to deliver her baby soon. The intra-aortic balloon pump was placed urgently through an artery in her shoulder by the cardiothoracic surgical team. The adult cardiac team worked diligently to complete the procedure and coordinate with the labor and delivery team before the patient’s labor was induced the next day. Both teams had to develop a comprehensive plan involving detailed care management and partnership with many other teams, departments, and services. This could not have been accomplished without their patient-centered and highly collaborative work.

“What was so remarkable about this experience was how so many people came together to provide the highest level of care to an expectant mother whose delivery was life-threatening,” said maternal-fetal medicine physician Julia Bregand-White, MD. “They did so without hesitation, regardless of what was happening outside of the hospital.”

In all, dozens of people from labor and delivery, heart and vascular services, the catheterization laboratory, adult inpatient staff and others were involved in coordinating the patient’s care. According to Bregand-White, the mother and baby are doing well, given the circumstances.

Smooth operations

The Facilities and Support Services team devised a plan to maintain full operations across the Medical Center while minimizing damage to infrastructure caused by the extreme cold weather.

To handle responses to cold calls, floods and clean-up remediation efforts, every member of Plant Operations, Environmental Services and Public Safety was involved. The leadership team also doubled the number of maintenance staff per shift to make sure there was enough manpower to troubleshoot any issue. Many gladly worked longer shifts, and others braved the negative temperatures to come in on their days off. They even worked through the weekend to ensure that systems were back to normal.

Valet services and the groundskeepers endured the cold to clear the streets and sidewalks, assist patients and keep the traffic moving.

Fighting frostbite

On Tuesday, January 29, the first truly frigid day of the polar vortex, the Burn Center received just two patients with frostbite. That was a good sign. But it didn’t last. By Friday, the frostbite count had reached 22.

During the 2013-2014 polar vortex, “we saw a lot of frostbitten feet,” said Annemarie O’Connor, an advanced practice nurse in the Burn Center. “This time, we saw a lot more hands. We’re not sure why. Maybe because it was such a short and fairly sudden blast.”

On the South Side of Chicago, frostbite injuries can be depressingly common. They often come with a social component. Patients may “present in a delayed fashion,” O’Connor explained. They may be homeless. Some have sustained repeated cold-weather injuries. They may also have psychiatric or alcohol-related problems.

At least one patient who had been outside for several hours in the snow was brought in by ambulance. The Burn Unit team warmed him up and used a medication to break up blood clots, a last ditch effort to restore circulation to his fingers. So far, it worked.

'We had to finish the tests'

Medical technologist Hong Chen labored nearly single handedly every day during the recent Polar Vortex in the Clinical Hematology Laboratory/Rapid Response Laboratory to ensure the swift diagnosis of blood cancers for patients. “In some case, the doctors needed results right away,” Chen said. “We had to finish the tests.”

She made sure that the most important tests were run first in the short-staffed lab. The Hyde Park resident walked 20 minutes to work in subzero wind chills and snow-clogged sidewalks so pathologists and doctors could monitor the health of patients.

Call Center takes the calls

A number of UChicago Medicine’s Call Center team pulled together during the frigid temperatures to make sure this vital lifeline was there to support our patients and clinicians.

Rowena James at the Darien Call Center got up early and called everyone scheduled on the first shift to see if cars started and to offer rides if needed. Karen Bradfield came in to work even though she was scheduled for vacation. Lacrecia Mabry, Darrick Hawkins, Kecia Robinson, Samantha Alexander and NIah Boone all worked form the Hyde Park Disaster Recovery space to ensure adequate coverage. And Theatrice Lancaster, Brianna Arana, LaTasha Solomon and Linda Barrick all worked overtime to provide adequate staffing to handle the surge of calls due to weather-related clinic cancellations.