As troubling weather patterns moved over the country on May 20, Eagle Imaging CEO Eric Slimmer, RT, studied live radar images on his Samsung tablet. Skies were clear in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Slimmer was attending the RBMA conference, but his mind was on his family and colleagues back home.
A text from Eagle Imaging’s president, Byron Christie, MD, had just alerted him that a small tornado had touched down near Duncan, Okla., taking out the power and shutting down the PACS at Duncan Regional Hospital. Eagle Imaging is an eight-radiologist group that supports 20 hospital and outpatient facilities in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and Duncan Regional Hospital is one of these. Fortunately, Dr. Christie was at the hospital and could relocate to the E.R. to provide preliminary reads.
However, Slimmer knew the danger was far from over. Born in Kansas and a resident of Oklahoma for 10 years — as well as a self-admitted weather buff — he recognized that what he saw on his screen over his home state were several very dangerous storms quickly forming. “I turned to the guy next to me in the session and said, ‘That’s going to produce a tornado,’” he said.
Moments later, a red box appeared on the live radar image on Slimmer’s screen indicating the start of the massive F5 tornado that would devastate Moore, Okla. Hitting just 20 minutes after the Duncan tornado, the Moore tornado touched down at 2:56 p.m. and didn’t end until 3:35 p.m.
Connected to his business and community through his mobile devices, Slimmer knew it was time to go into disaster mode. In the resort lobby, he moved seamlessly from the role of RBMA conference attendee to the role of central command post for Eagle Imaging.
By phone and through online instant chat, Slimmer brought his team together. One of the nearest emergency rooms to Moore was at Community Hospital, a small 50-bed facility where Eagle Imaging radiologist C. Brett Nelson, MD, was on site. Because people injured in the tornado often had to find their own way to a hospital, this small hospital’s ER began filling quickly with patients going to the nearest rather than the largest facility.
Fortunately, Community Hospital did not lose power and network capability, although it did lose water. Loss of water can be difficult, but from an imaging interpretation perspective, loss of power or network is more serious.
Dr. Nelson, who took the lead on site, and six of Eagle Imaging’s other radiologists who were reading remotely started seeing patients just before 4 p.m. In total, they would see 14 patients and interpret just over 50 imaging studies in what would end up being a very long day.
“Our radiologists begin work at 8 a.m. and we were in full disaster mode until 11 p.m. when we were done seeing and treating patients,” Slimmer said. “That’s a 15-hour day.”
Eagle Imaging is a vRad client and could have turned over some interpretations to their overnight coverage, but Slimmer said that was not necessary because they wanted to leave the daytime staff in place.
“The most challenging thing was the influx of patients in a small emergency room,” he explains. “They were treating and imaging them as quickly as they could, and getting patient information after the fact, which meant we were working with emergency patient identifiers.”
With power back on at Duncan Regional Hospital, Dr. Christie decided to drive over to Community Hospital to help Dr. Nelson. Community Hospital is normally just over an hour away from Duncan. However, the tornado had completely destroyed the bridge leading into Oklahoma City from the south west and forced a 60 mile detour. It underscored for Slimmer how lucky it was that Community Hospital had not lost its network connection. With the bridge out, it would take hours before Dr. Christie could get on-site to help Dr. Nelson.
“We were more fortunate than other hospital facilities that were hit by the tornado,” Slimmer said. “The situation for our practice could have been much worse if we had lost power and network along with the bridges out between our locations.”
Although Slimmer had been in constant contact with his colleagues and monitored the news closely while he was away, he said he was still shocked when he saw the destruction first-hand as his plane passed over Moore on its landing approach.
“I was very proud of our radiology team and proud of our physicians and I don’t think we could have done anything more,” he said.
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