As Sandy approached, staff’s priority was patient safety

Closing two days in a row was a first, but a necessary one

Julie-Ann Amodio and Sharon Gargiuolo drew upon experience to prepare Heart and Vascular Shoreline for the storm.

As Hurricane Sandy approached the Northeast, it was clear to Yale Medical Group (YMG) administrators that Monday, October 29, would not be business as usual. Yale University was already making plans to shut down—an extraordinary step.

Marie Follo, director of practice management for YMG, had a contingency plan. “On Friday, we contacted all of the practices we manage centrally, including general surgery, internal medicine, neurology and plastic surgery, to get ready. We then printed up patient appointment schedules for Monday to bring home, and we coordinated who was going to be making cancellation calls, if that became necessary,” said Follo.

Since Follo had been away, Chief Revenue Officer Marianne Dess-Santoro and Practice Manager Johanna Torres initiated the plans and Follo jumped in on Saturday evening when she returned.

The lights remained on over the weekend, but as Sandy roared up the coast, it became obvious that Monday’s appointments would have to be scrubbed. On Sunday, Follo, along with Torres, Clinical Manager David Cusick, and Dess-Santoro, put their plan into action. “Everyone just kicked into gear and pulled together,” said Follo. “We probably cancelled more than one thousand appointments for Monday, and we did so in a mindful, secure fashion.”

Staff at Heart and Vascular Shoreline worked through the weekend to cancel appointments. Pictured left to right are (seated) Sharon Gargiuolo, Jo-ann Montalto and Teresa Papa; (standing) Michelle Connor, Christine Beecher, Julie-Ann Amodio, Dr. Michael Remetz, Erin Byrne and Wendy Hoyt. Not pictured are HVS Branford staff Kristen Kades, Lori Hall and Krista Bova; and Guilford staff Jean Lemione and Diane Leighton. The group’s cardiac rehabilitation staff, including Barbara Delatorre and Audrey Valentin, also pitched in.

Four patients showed up at YPB

When Follo and her team reported for work that morning, there were four patients who didn’t get the message waiting in the Yale Physicians Building. Three of them were urged to get home safely; and a fourth was seen in the hospital’s emergency department. Then, the managers and staff, both at home and in the office, took to the phones to cancel all of the next day’s YMG appointments. “I’ve been here 24 years, and this is the first time we’ve ever had to do this,” said Follo, who managed to get home before the roads closed. “No one showed up at YPB on Tuesday.”

Meanwhile, Julie-Ann Amodio, practice manager for Heart and Vascular Shoreline, also saw the weather forecast on Friday, and started to implement a plan that her office had fine-tuned as a result of dealing with prior hurricanes, blizzards and floods. “We have an emergency call tree, and everyone takes home certain pages of the patient schedule,” Amodio said.

Over the weekend, the staff started making calls to cancel appointments at the cardiology practice’s three offices in Guilford and Branford—cardiac rehab appointments at the practice’s Yale-New Haven Hospital location had already been scrubbed—for the beginning of the week. Amodio also put in a call to WTNH to ask the local TV channel’s staff to list her closing in among its cancellation announcements.

On Monday, Amodio worked from home, where her generator kept the phone and the computer humming to help her staff and her providers keep patients informed and, whenever necessary, routed to open facilities in which they would receive proper care. “It all went smoothly,” Amodio said. ”We have a great staff dedicated to our patients, and we caught up on all the appointments we had to cancel. It was just a lot of work.”

Back to full service

Chief Operating Officer Fred Borrelli was at a football game in New York when he answered his first call about whether the clinics should close due to the impending storm. He spent the next few days working on phone calls and meetings, from home and in the office. “What I saw with Hurricane Sandy was a real desire and commitment among all of our clinical/administrative faculty and staff to make sure our patient care continued as much as possible. In partnership with the emergency response team at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale University, we pulled together,” he said.

All Yale Medical Group ambulatory practices in the Yale Physicians Building, Smilow Cancer Hospital and Temple Medical Center were back to full service by the Wednesday after the hurricane, and many other practice locations were able to resume normal operations. However, sites in Guilford, Madison and other locations were out of power for longer periods.

While he was impressed by the efforts, Borrelli is now meeting with other administrators to make sure our emergency communications process is well coordinated throughout the practice in the event of any future events like Sandy.