Huntsville Hospital staff looks back at storm response

Emergency officials in North Alabama are looking back over the past 16 days to see how they handled the April 27th tornado outbreak.

"We don't have the luxury of shutting down. We stay open no matter what. We're designed to stay open no matter what," said Huntsville Hospital CEO, David Spillers. Minutes after tornadoes swept the Valley, Spillers said the hospital dealt with a flood of new patients and staff members weren't sure how many more would come in.

"We were communicating with HEMSI and trying to get a good gauge of what we could expect, but the reality is they didn't know because there was so much destruction. They didn't know what they'd find," added Spiller.

The hospital lost power and brought in more than 15 generators to keep operations going for days.

Nancy Badgett, a nurse who works in the trauma center at the hospital, said everything was organized. She's been a nurse for 34 years and said the hospital wasn't as chaotic as she thought it'd be when the storms hit, but it was still really busy.

"[We saw] crush injuries, people that were thrown from their homes-- a little of everything," she said.

Badgett was in Huntsville when the outbreak of 1974 tornadoes happened and said there have been all sorts of upgrades made to the hospital since then, including new trauma rooms and a mobile medical unit that was taken out into the field recently. It was originally supposed to be for medical workers.

"When we got out there, we saw [medical workers] were not the ones that needed it. It was the families, people who had lost their homes, volunteers. Power was out, physicians offices were closed... the ER got lots of patients, but not everyone needed to go to the ER," said Liz Mardin, who helped operate the unit.

Hospital officials say there are still about seven patients still getting treated and all seven are expected to be okay.

In the meantime, hospital officials are also working to raise money for another mobile medical unit. They say proceeds from the Huntsville Classic Concert (an annual fundraiser of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation) will fund its purchase. The hospital used a borrowed unit that belongs to Healthgroup of Alabama to provide minor medical care, tetanus shots and on-site comfort when the tornadoes hit.

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