Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Winds vs Chimney Rock Villa

Even as the clouds thickened and swirled, some didn’t believe a tornado would dare swoop down on Bayard.

Bayard travels the route of tornado watches and warnings every year; it’s a ‘rite of spring’. Yes, the winds do blow but tornadoes never show.

However, this year, no one reminded a wayward EF1 tornado, with 86 – 110 mph winds, about that refrain as it carved up Bayard’s northwest corridor. It raised havoc with habitats, trees, electricity, and modes of transportation.

But the Panhandle banded together and played “we shall overcome”.

When the lights flickered at Chimney Rock Villa, Administrator Kim Burry, accompanied by MDS Coordinator Jill Araujo, hurried to the back of the Villa to shut off the servers. Araujo, who’d come to the Villa when she heard the sirens, saw residents “hunkered down” in the nursing station and television room, prepared for the worst.

As she and Burry reached the rear of the Villa they felt the building shift, and the outside and inside double doors pulsated and blew open…

Later, in retrospect, Burry talked about that day. “The whole day had been different. For no particular reason the residents med lists were printed earlier than usual, and on the spur of the moment I’d called Information Technology, IT, to learn how to shut the servers off.

“All this in the morning before any tornado watches were issued.”

…Feeling the building shift the two ladies rushed back up front; shutting off the servers became an afterthought that never materialized. Everyone was physically ok and no hysteria. Burry walked outside and saw trees on the ground and a gap over assisted living where the roof used to be; “when I saw “Outerkirk’s house reality set in. People were beginning to show up to help and I smelled gas, but we couldn’t evacuate because of downed wires.

“A shed that stored 12 oxygen tanks stood undamaged as did the medical records building, but the garage housing the Villa’s car was in a heap. I found out later damage to the car was minimal.

“Since the tornado, we’ve been told we lost three roof top heating and cooling units, and five are being further tested for damage.

“Inside, an air conditioner blew out of a kitchen window into the middle of the floor; there was wind damage inside the building, and the ceiling in the dining room partially collapsed. Two resident rooms in assisted living were destroyed.”    

As news that a tornado struck Bayard’s Chimney Rock Villa spread over the Panhandle’s news wires, Regional West’s emergency team, in Scottsbluff, called Burry to offer their help placing residents in other nursing homes across Western Nebraska; forty-five of them needed a new, though temporary, place to call home.

The City shut off the gas and power, so people could leave and enter the Villa.

Araujo appreciated it when Gage Norman helped assess the damage and keep everyone calm. “It was good having the male influence to help us check everything.”

She remembered people asking what they could do, past employees as well as people who had friends or relatives living at the Villa. “Everyone just wanted to help.”

With the memory her eyes filled with tears. “With God’s help we were prepared when the storm hit. Just the way everyone responded to the emergency.”

Burry agreed, and “the fact when we checked residents we didn’t find a scratch on anyone. We made binders for each resident that contained their meds and any other special instructions, so they’d be taken care of no matter where they went that night. We also put wrist bands on them.

“We made an ‘all points’ call to anyone representing the school; we needed a temporary place for twelve residents.” (On a walkie talkie Superintendent Miller responded and sent a school bus to pick them up. Burry was later told volunteers were there to help when they arrived at the school.)

“By this time I’d calmed down and was on automatic pilot, doing whatever was needed.

“When all was said and done we had residents going to six different facilities, throughout Western Nebraska. They’ll be at those units until the Villa’s repaired and the State inspects and okays their return.

“To speed things up, we’re thinking about blocking off assisted living, which has the most damage. That would mean 37 of the 45 we house could return quicker. The eight who were in assisted living won’t return until the unit’s completely functional, and inspected.

“We have staff visiting our residents to help with their care and keep them in touch with familiar faces. We’re sending them ‘We miss you cards’ along with a picture of ‘Peanuts’, the Villa’s dog.

“We hope to have everyone back in a month, and we’ll have a “Welcome Home” festivity to celebrate.

Dan Waechter is the Villa’s transportation specialist; he takes resident’s wherever they need taken, doctors and therapy, etcetera.

“The day of the tornado I was to pick up two residents, at 5:45pm, who were in Scottsbluff for dialysis. Kim told me not to go but to stick around the Villa; she might need my help if bad weather set in.

“For now, the residents were safe in the Bluffs.

“Later, I went outside and didn’t see any funnel clouds but baseball size hail started to fall. My mother’s at the Villa so I went back inside to see if she was staying calm.  

“Again, I started to go outside to check on things, but now the wind was probably blowing 100 mph. I turned around and went back.

“As soon as I could after the tornado hit, I went outside to get the van and helped take residents to the school. The streets were full of people, some helping, others sight-seeing. The sight-seers were in the way of city officials and others who were trying to help.

“After taking some residents to the school, I went back to the Villa and began a long night of taking residents to their temporary homes, wherever that would be. A school bus also helped with the transfers.

“The staffs at our various destinations were waiting for us and they treated our residents like kings and queens. Our residents handled it well. Some were confused about what was happening, and it was subdued on the bus.

 “It wasn’t fun. I fought 45 -50 mph winds all night. After the last stop I headed west and the adrenalin stopped flowing; I realized I was tired. I fought the wind and sleep until I pulled into Bayard at 4a.m.

“At home I sat in my favorite chair to unwind. The thought hit me, ‘It could have been so much worse.’”

Post Script: The overseers of the State of Nebraska’s Long Term Care Facilities commended the leadership and staff at Chimney Rock Villa for a job well done. All 45 residents were placed in 4.5 hours with no accidents or a fall; seldom does something that efficient occur…

Many kudos to the crew at Chimney Rock Villa; Bayard thanks you.   

No comments: