Emory responds to winter storm with service, action

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Feb. 4, 2014

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When a winter storm prompted the early closure of Emory University last Tuesday, Suzan Rhodes, a senior medical secretary at the Emory Eye Center, chose to stay put in hopes of avoiding traffic.

By the time she finally did leave work around 6 p.m., "Clairmont Road was just a parking lot," Rhodes recalls. "Cars couldn't get up the hill, trucks couldn't get up the hill, and buses couldn't get around any of them. The road in front of the V.A. (Veterans Administration) was completely blocked; it was a sheet of ice."

After sitting in her car for hours, she was amazed to see Emory students step in to help — an impromptu rescue team.

"They just showed up and were there for everybody," Rhodes says. "They went to one car after another, patiently helping people get unstuck, rocking the cars against the ice gathering up against their wheels, and pushing them on their way."

"They stayed out there at least three hours in the cold making it seem fun, laughing and cutting up and having a big old time. When they freed you up they cheered and onto the next car they went," she recalls.

By 9:30 p.m., Rhodes was finally on her way — like many Emory employees, her regular commute was a long, arduous trek — grateful for the energy and empathy of Emory students like Jonathan Adcock, Jonathan Goldman, Aamil Sarfani, and Josh Jacobs.

And so the stories emerged — recollections of how Emory faculty, staff and students had responded with compassion and service in the face of a crippling weather crisis.

As Emory — and Atlanta — began to recover from a storm that left roadways choked with abandoned vehicles and virtually shut down much of the metro region, details surfaced that portrayed a resilient campus community that took quick action to keep essential services intact.

Here are only a few examples of the behind-the-scenes heroics.

Emory Dining

As conditions deteriorated Tuesday, Emory Dining employee Leslie Evers — who lives five miles from campus — had invited co-worker Teresa Minefee to spend the night on her couch, convinced that Minefee would never make it to her own home. The pair had traveled within a mile of Minefee's home when they realized they could go no further.

Abandoning their car, they elected to walk four miles back to Emory, where they slept on couches "so they could help us serve the resident dining students in the morning," says Emory Dining General Manager Todd Schram. "I can't thank them enough."

Other employees also bunked on campus. Rebecca Cutts Denton, marketing manager for Emory Dining/Sodexo, reports that "several managers and Dobbs Market employees" stayed on campus from Tuesday until Thursday, "sleeping on the floor and couches, curling up with Emory Catering linens."

Campus Services

Throughout the week, Campus Services employed a rotating team of over 100 employees, who spent long hours plowing and de-icing roadways, which helped maintain C shuttle service from the Clairmont campus to the main campus, ferrying students to food at Dobbs University Center and Emory Healthcare employees to their jobs.

Most of those Campus Service employees slept on cots or office floors, including Associate Vice President of Facilities Management Todd Kerzie.

"We didn't have any burst pipes, or collapsing roofs, just a unified team shoveling, de-icing, shuttling and providing utilities," says Karen Salisbury, chief of staff to the vice president of Campus Services.

Division of Animal Resources

Thirteen Division of Animal Resources employees remained on campus from throughout the closure in order to care for $12 million worth of research vertebrate animals — nearly 65,000 animals by headcount — at 10 sites on the Emory campus, says director Michael Huerkamp.

For two nights, animal care and veterinary technicians slept in the offices and conference rooms; some meals were provided by Lynne Morelock-Roy, others were taken at the Emory Conference Center Hotel.

"Those 13 employees were joined in animal and veterinary care efforts by others who braved the elements coming and going from home, swelling our ranks to 19 on Wednesday and over 32 on Thursday," Huerkamp reports.

In addition to caring for animals, "we protected the public's trust in Emory's reputation as a responsible steward of research animals," he says.

Yerkes Primate Center

Yerkes personnel looked after more than 3,000 nonhuman primates and 10,000 rodents.

At the main center, Yerkes Veterinary Resources and Animal Care employees remained on ite from Tuesday, Jan. 28 through Thursday, Jan. 30 to ensure all animals were fed, treated as needed and observed per research protocols, as well as to ensure the animals' housing areas were cleaned.

Veterinarians, technicians and more than 23 daytime and night Animal Care staff stayed overnight at the main center or made it in to help.

At Yerkes' Lawrenceville Field Station, technicians, veterinary staff and Animal Care employees were onsite, some staying overnight.

A majority of Animal Care staff, veterinarians, and Colony Management staff reported for work Wednesday, along with the contracted cleaning crew.

Staff slept on air mattresses, cots and chairs in the center's seminar rooms and locker rooms. Because of their dedication, all animals received food and care, operating systems remained in working order and no work is behind schedule.

Walden School/Clairmont Campus

At the Walden School located on Emory's Clairmont Campus, several employees stayed long past the campus closure to await parents delayed in picking up their children, ages 2 through 5.

Shantel Newsome and Brittni Williams stayed for several hours past the campus release and Sharon Hynes stayed until 7:30 p.m. for the last parents to arrive.

Emory University School of Law

Adeash Aj Lakraj, an Emory University School of Law student, not only helped out by offering his own home to students who were trapped on campus, he created a post on his Facebook page alerting others how to get in touch with him for help.

Emory Healthcare

Within Emory's Healthcare community, it was largely business as usual — despite weather constraints, hospital employees were expected to report to work as planned.

But it wasn't long before Emory School of Medicine Dean Christian Larsen began receiving  "glowing messages about colleagues going well beyond the call of duty" from performing emergency surgeries to staffing the Incident Command Center to pulling 20-plus-hour shifts.

Staff members like Admissions Manager Faith Levy, who walked to Emory every day to keep the Medical School Admissions Office open, answered phones and rescheduled visits and interviews for applicants who couldn't get to Atlanta due to the weather.

And faculty like Jeff Siegelman, assistant professor of emergency medicine walked to Emory University Hospital in order to see emergency department patients — in fact, all emergency medicine residents scheduled to work during the winter storm made it to the Grady Memorial Hospital emergency room, reports Deb Houry, director of Emory's Center for Injury Control and vice chair for research/emergency medicine.

Leon Haley, associate professor of emergency medicine, and Brooks Moore, assistant professor of emergency medicine, attending physicians at the Grady emergency room, who worked Tuesday evening, slept at the hospital; Moore stayed on the following day to coordinate emergency procedures and Haley worked on School of Medicine planning.

In a memo to the Emory Healthcare community this week, Larsen offered employees his thanks, noting that "on little to no sleep and sacrificing time away from home with your own families, many of you worked through the night, pitching in where help was needed."

As an example, Larsen noted Pulmonary Attending Physician Jenny Elizabeth Han, who "decided to stay on the job at Grady's Medical ICU (intensive care unit) Tuesday night," despite the demands of 2-year-old triplets at home.

Han explained it was "just part of the privilege of being a health care provider," also crediting a supportive family.

"There are many, many great stories of the staff here that stayed overnight to take care of our patients, as well as the wonderful residents who braved the weather to come in on Tuesday evening to work their usual shift," Han later said. "We all have great stories to share."

For example, many Emory nurses chose to work longer shift or spend the night at work in order to cover the shifts of those who couldn't make it in, Han recalls, crediting nursing leadership such as Linda O'Sullivan and Dina Dent, who coordinated efforts to locate cots for the staff to sleep on.

From residents and medical fellows who "chose to brave the snow to come into work that evening and again the next morning" to a respiratory therapist with a child stuck at school who remained on the job to the unwavering dedication of intensive care staff, Han noted the deep commitment to patient care.