Novant employees pitch in overnight at Presbyterian hospital

About 150 employees spent the night Wednesday at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center either because they couldn’t make it home in the snow or wanted to make sure they were available for work the next day.

“We gave out toiletry kits and meal cards, and offered a place to sleep,” said Elizabeth Steger, vice president for nursing. “We had physicians, nurses and staff that walked to and from work. We’ve had people pick up co-workers and physicians. Many people have helped pass food trays to patients. Everyone has pitched in to take care of patients.”

More than 300 staff members from Carolinas Medical Center either slept at the hospital or were put up in hotels during the snowstorm.

At Presbyterian, Suzanne Garrison, a secretary on the sixth floor, planned to take the bus to work Thursday morning because she didn’t think she could drive out of her neighborhood. She arrived at the bus stop at Providence Road and Beverly Crest, near the Arboretum, at 6:20 and stood waiting for about a half-hour when a man drove by, then stopped and backed up.

He told her he didn’t think the Charlotte Area Transit System buses were running and asked, “Where you headed?”

When she told him Presbyterian, he offered her a ride. “He said, ‘I don’t usually pick up strangers,’ and I said, ‘I don’t usually get in the car with strangers.’ But he brought me right up to the front door. What a good Samaritan.”

Tony – all she got was his first name – offered to pick her up after work, but her 12-hour shift didn’t fit with his schedule. Instead, she arranged to get a ride home Thursday night with a coworker from the physical therapy department, who also plans to pick her up Friday morning.

“I’ve been here many years, and I’ve never missed work,” Garrison said. Her late husband was a truck driver who always helped her out at times like this. But since he died, she said, “Now I have to get creative.”

Switchboard operator Jaci Whitten is wearing the same clothes she came to work in Tuesday morning. She slept in the hospital, sharing an empty patient room with a coworker, both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and she’s planning to stay again Thursday night.

But when her shift ends Friday at 3:30 p.m., she’s off for the weekend, and she’s not worried about driving in the snow. “I spent 30 years in Colorado. I’ll be able to go home.”

Whitten stayed at the hospital to make sure the switchboard would be staffed appropriately.

“We needed to make sure we were covered,” she said. “We have Code Blues all the time. That doesn’t stop. Only the people that work on the switchboard know how to work the switchboard.”