By Amy Guckeen Tolson, USAG RedstoneMay 11, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Col. Celethia Abner-Wise didn't have power - but she had her family and she had her home, and that was enough to bring her to work in the days that followed the April 27 tornado outbreak in the Tennessee Valley.
"I am just thankful and happy that I'm healthy, my family is healthy, and that we were able to come in and to assist like we're supposed to," Abner-Wise, deputy commander for nursing at Fox Army Health Center, said. "That's what we do as Soldiers and as health care personnel."
Less than 24 hours after the tornadoes hit the Tennessee Valley, when it seemed like all of Alabama was shut down, Fox Army Health Center opened its doors to its patients, providing acute care and pharmacy services to those beneficiaries in need.
"You hear Redstone is closed but yet there are critical infrastructure and organizations that are key to supporting the beneficiaries and those that live on Redstone," Fox commander Col. Elizabeth Johnson said. "I'm glad that everybody was able to step up to the plate, to include the Commissary and the PX. We're not closed. We can provide the critical services that we need to provide."
Providers saw around 10 patients the day after the tornadoes, and between 15 and 18 the day after that, according to Dr. Michael Cooke, as Fox provided acute care and other services as it was able in the days that followed the disaster. While a majority of patients came to Fox in need of medication they had lost in the storms, some sought help for the emotional trauma the day's experiences left them with, others came in for the bruises, abrasions and scrapes they sustained both from the actual storms and while assisting in the recovery efforts, others for tetanus shots.
"We opened the next day," said Dan Morgan, facilities emergency manager. "What Col. Johnson's perspective was, 'Look, pharmacies, acute care facilities downtown will be impacted. If we can be open, we should be open, because people will still be seeking care.'"
The largest service Fox provided in the days following the storm has been pharmacy services. The pharmacy windows opened the morning following the storm, and continued to provide service all the way through the weekend - from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, days when the pharmacy is typically closed.
"The question at the 6:00 meeting Saturday morning was - can the pharmacy be open'" Johnson said. "Realizing none of the pharmacies off post were open, the hospitals off post didn't want people going in other than emergency care, I got with the chief of pharmacy and asked can we at least get one window open and take the burden off the community and be able to support the beneficiaries'"
Over the weekend alone, the pharmacy filled around 357 prescriptions. While on a typical day they may fill more than 1,200, the numbers they did fill in the days following the tornado outbreak meant a lot to the beneficiaries, not just for their peace of mind, but for their health as well.
"It is a huge impact because our beneficiary population is mostly elderly," Abner-Wise said. "If they don't have their medication, because a lot of things are chronic disease processes, then they could easily have a relapse of some sort and become even more severely ill by not having their medications to take."
Abner-Wise greeted beneficiaries as they came into Fox, walking them to the pharmacy, ensuring their families were OK and asking what else Fox could do for them in this difficult time.
"We reassured them that we were here for them," Abner-Wise said. "They loved it. They're still thanking me in the hallway for opening up, saying, 'You just don't know what you've done for us by being open.'"
Fox's impact in the days after the storm went beyond the four walls of the health center. Preventive medicine performed the inspections on the Child Development Centers, School Age Services and Youth Center buildings to ensure they were ready for children and staff alike to return. Going over an extensive checklist that covered food and how it is protected, training records, ice, garbage disposal, lighting, ventilation, toilets, as well as making sure that everything was functional and it was rodent and insect free. Inspections of the CDCs were completed May 4, so children could return to care on May 5.
"They really go into detail to ensure that it's ready for the children and staff members," Abner-Wise said of the inspectors.
Johnson credits the success of Fox's response to the storm victims to the willingness of her staff to do whatever it took to reach out to others in need.
"My staff was great," Johnson said. "There was never an attitude of, 'Oh we can't do that.' It was always, 'What can we do to support the community'' It was very heartwarming to be able to have a staff with that attitude."
"From our perspective, I think we did everything we could do," Morgan said. "You can't become something you're not. You can't become an emergency room, we just don't have the equipment or the personnel to do that, but we certainly wanted to make sure we could do anything that was asked of us, and we did."
That effort began around 11:15 a.m. April 27, when Morgan was alerted of the first tornado warning of the business day, which brought patients, staff and anyone else in the building to the Fox Den in the building's basement. As the warning wore on and people grew both weary and hungry, the silver lining of the day presented itself. With a retirement ceremony complete with potluck for the day originally planned for the afternoon, the celebration - and most importantly, the food - extended to everyone that took shelter at Fox, as all were invited to go through the lunch line. In the days following the storms, Fox's Exchange CafAfA's hot cups of coffee were a welcome relief for patrons.
"Team Redstone really isn't lip service, it really is Team Redstone," Johnson said. "It really is an awesome organization to be part of. The Fox staff has really stepped up to the plate, provided what they could provide, been flexible and just done a great job."