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On a Saturday night, employees leave family, friends, football to help with flood

It was Saturday night. The kids were in bed. It was the first weekend of the NFL playoffs and the Saints had just started playing the Eagles. Nick Zauner was a happy man. And then the phone rang.

Zauner, manager of Maintenance and Mechanical Systems in Plant Engineering, heard the awful news that water was streaming out of a sprinkler in a room on the Acute Care for the Elderly Unit on the 6th floor of the East Pavilion. He sprang off the couch, grabbed a pair of boots and made the 30-minute trip to the hospital.

Abe Lopman, senior vice president of Operations and executive director of Smilow Cancer Hospital, was the event's incident commander, and had quickly called in employees who do not usually work at Yale-New Haven Hospital on the weekend.

Staff from Plant Engineering, Epidemiology, Environmental Services, Clinical Engineering, Information Technology, Patient Transport and Bed Management streamed into the hospital to help. Many of them would work straight through Monday morning. The professional cleaning company that supports staff in events like floods was also called in to assist.

The problem started at around 7:30 p.m. on 6-5 when a sprinkler was knocked accidentally. Water — under pressure — exploded into the room at the rate of 50 gallons per minute. In the half hour it took Plant Engineering and the New Haven Fire Department to shut the valves and turn off the pump in the East Pavilion basement, the broken sprinkler had sprayed more than 1,500 gallons of water into the room.

The water quickly found its way from the 6th floor down to General Medicine on 5-5, and then to the Heart and Vascular Center recovery suite on the fourth floor.

By that time, the equivalent of more than 30 bathtubs of water had sprayed into the hospital and when it arrived at the ceiling above the third floor, the volume did real damage, bringing down ceiling tiles and anything else it had picked up on its 4-floor journey to its resting place in the Express Admissions Service office and OR consult rooms on the third floor.

"Incredibly, no patients were affected by the water that night," said Lopman. "Our team had a tiny window of time to assess the damage, bring in supplies and prepare for Monday morning at 6:30 when patients would again fill the HVC and Express Admissions."

"It seemed that every support service was there that night helping," observed Zauner. "The nurses were spectacular because they immediately evacuated patients on 5 and 6 to rooms away from the water. ITS worked on replacing damaged computers and rewiring where necessary and Environmental Services associates cleaned, painted, washed and dried surfaces and took away debris. Clinical Engineering sanitized and tested equipment. Everyone pitched in."

George Paci, RN, infection prevention specialist, Quality Improvement Support Services, came in to evaluate the damage and determine what had to be discarded; he also had to ensure that remediation was contained so patients would not be affected by the repairs. This includes properly walling off construction areas and using fans to transfer air outside the building so it did not enter the hospital's air circulation system.

"In a situation like this, moving quickly is critical because mold and bacteria can grow rapidly," explains Paci. "Everyone worked quickly to make sure patients were not compromised by the repair work and that the areas were safe for patients and staff on Monday morning."

Dehumidifiers whirred on all affected floors throughout the weekend and Zauner's group brought up new ceiling tiles from the basement and quickly began to replace the damaged ones. On Saturday night, they put in an urgent request to their supplier for all the sheet rock they needed to replace wet walls. "In this incident, there were no inhibitors — only facilitators," Zauner noted.

By Monday morning, floors 3 and 4 were ready to accept patients while work on patient rooms on 5 and 6 continued until Wednesday.

"Yale-New Haven employees are all about patient safety and that is what motivated them throughout the weekend," said Lopman. "They worked tirelessly to ensure that the environment for patients and staff would be clean and safe for them on Monday — and it was."

Yale-New Haven Hospital news release

Yale-New Haven Hospital is a nationally recognized, 1,541-bed, not-for-profit hospital serving as the primary teaching hospital for the Yale School of Medicine. Yale-New Haven was founded as the fourth voluntary hospital in the U.S. in 1826. Today, the hospital's two New Haven-based inpatient campuses include Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital, Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and Smilow Cancer Hospital. YNHH has a combined medical staff of about 4,500 university and community physicians practicing in more than 100 specialties. YNHH's York Street campus and associated ambulatory sites are Magnet-designated by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

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