LUMBERTON — The staff at WoodHaven Nursing, Alzheimer’s and Rehabilitation Care Center was faced with difficult decisions during Hurricane Florence.
As water started to gather in the center’s neighborhood, plans to move residents around the facility, or even evacuate, were discussed. Individual staff members had to make hard choices for themselves as their own homes were threatened .
In the end, the facility was spared from flooding, but for 48 hours, the staff kept a watchful eye on the water and stood ready to handle the worst scenarios.
“Our staff was amazing,” said WoodHaven Director Barbara Collins. “They left their homes to stay here, some already knew their homes were flooded, and they still stayed here to make sure residents were taken care of.”
One of those employees was licensed practical nurse Betty Kinlaw, who lives in Lumberton and has worked at WoodHaven since 2005. Kinlaw’s house was surrounded by water, but she didn’t let that stop her from coming to work.
“We live in a low-lying area,” Kinlaw said. “We knew it would get surrounded, so we did what we did during Hurricane Matthew. We parked our cars near the road on higher ground, and we got out the canoe to get in and out of the house, because we don’t want to leave our home and our animals.”
Kinlaw’s husband, Keith Kinlaw, who also works for SeHealth in the Facilities and Engineering Services Department, would then drive her into work.
“We know people count on us to be there,” she said. “I love my residents and I have to look out for them. We knew we could make it in, we just had to leave a little bit earlier from the house. We’ve been through this before. We got through it this time, and we’ll get through it next time. I feel like I need to be there because of my commitment to being a nurse and my residents. That’s their home out there, and that’s all they see every day. If I can go out and come in and bring them my stories and pictures, share my experiences with them, it means a lot to them.”
Even finding a snake in the canoe at one point didn’t deter Kinlaw, though it probably gave her a good story.
“It was just a little garden snake,” she said. “My husband had to get him out. That snake was mad because he didn’t want to get back in the water, but he had to go.”
Though Kinlaw plays down the measures she took to get to WoodHaven, Collins has high praise for her dedication.
“To leave your house in that shape, it takes a lot of motivation and a lot of willpower,” Collins said. “You’ve got to want to do this. I really respect her and her husband for doing that.”
Collins knows firsthand what was at stake, since she experienced her own home flooding during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. But she and her staff did their best to prepare in the run up to Hurricane Florence’s arrival in Robeson County so that they would be able to take care of the facility’s 109 patients through the storm.
“It’s just been amazing,” Collins said. “We haven’t been in a staffing crisis because we had staff stay here round the clock. They’d rest a while, and then go back to work, taking turns resting and working. We worked together as a team with the Southeastern Health leadership team to decide if we had to evacuate, and we made the decision not to.”
It was during one of the many conference calls between WoodHaven and SeHealth leaders that Vice President of Corporate Services and Chief Strategy Officer David Sumner suggested the idea of rain gauges to Collins. To make sure they had made the right decision, the staff created two gauges to measure the water outside of the facility, taking two broom handles and notching the wood to mark the depth and then placing them around the facility.
“When you’ve got all these people’s lives in your hands here, you’ve got to be able to make the right decision,” Collins said. “We couldn’t have done it without the vice presidents at the hospital, they were right here with us, helping make decisions through conference calls so it wasn’t like I was stuck on an island by myself.”
Collins, Nurse Manager Joyce Ransom and Rehabilitation Supervisor Barbara Oxendine stayed up for 48 hours, checking their gauges every hour to see if the water was rising. Collins said she was determined to make sure they were ready to act quickly if it looked like they needed to move residents.
“Naturally, I was thinking, oh gosh, did we make the right decision?” Collins said. “Our goal was to make sure the residents were not traumatized by being taken out in the weather and the pouring rain if it didn’t need to happen. If the water had started to come in, we had made the decision to house them in a higher part of the facility, and we were prepared to do a barricade with sand bags. Evacuating out in that storm was the very last thing to do. We wanted to keep safety in the forefront. Thank God, everybody got to stay in their rooms.”
Collins said residents also stayed calm through the emergency thanks to the staff.
“We did have several high-functioning residents in the facility who were able to understand what was going on, and they didn’t panic,” Collins said. “They trusted us to make the right decision. We had TVs they could watch and we were able to keep everyone comfortable. We did lose power for just a very short time, but we were on our generators and we have a very good generator system, so we still had air conditioning, lights, and everything. We were in good shape in terms of advance preparation.”
Roxana Ross is content writer/photographer for Southeastern Health in the Corporate Communications department.