Back to Normal

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I now know that the five most disquieting words in the English language are “This is not a drill.”

As some of you undoubtedly know from national news coverage, we had a shooting at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin yesterday.  Police, responding to a report of a visitor who was armed and dangerous, shot the suspect (not fatally) and gained control of the situation.  From around noon until 2 pm, the hospital was in a lockdown situation.  During that time, the other leaders and I were in a command center; much of our time since then has been spent in analyzing what happened and our response, and most important, in supporting all of our patient families and staff that were affected.

Thanks to our planning and procedures, and the outstanding work of our staff and law enforcement, no patients, families, or hospital staff were injured.  In retrospect, things went as well as one could reasonably expect, maybe even better.  I mean let’s face it, education and drills notwithstanding, there is no way to really rehearse for the real thing.  Adrenaline and neurotransmitters are running rampant, time becomes completely elastic, people get hungry.

You might think an actual situation like this would be less choreographed, more chaotic than the drills.  (We actually had an active shooter drill within the last couple of months.  It was kind of boring.)  Although I was never in danger myself, it was certainly nerve-wracking.  And going around to all the care areas after, behind the modest words I could sense that many people had been frankly frightened and concerned for others.  But what I saw everywhere was not chaos, but calm.  Even when communications were spotty, or procedures unclear, there was no panic.  It was almost surreal.  At the time, I was mostly relieved and appreciative (and a bit hungry).  I chalked it up to the supreme professionalism of the people I work with.

But reflecting now after 24 hours, that wasn’t quite it.  Not that there wasn’t extraordinary professionalism, it’s just that that isn’t enough.  What I saw was skilled professionals living out our values of being At Our Best:

1.  Purpose – We act in the service of patients and their families.

The nurses who shepherded families to safe locations in the clinics, and the nurses who stayed with the patients who couldn’t be moved.

The code team that despite the lockdown responded to not one, but four different emergency (“code”) situations, including to assist the man who was shot.

2.  Integrity – We build confidence and trust in all interactions.

Althea, the administrator on call who took charge as the incident commander and calmly directed activities.

The CHW security staff who  worked with four different law enforcement agencies to control access, provide escort to personnel who needed to move about, and provide a sense of confidence that all was under control.

3.  Collaboration – We work together to care for children and families.

The administrative team in the command center who during the incident and in the hours after worked together to return the hospital to normal.

The off duty security officer who happened to be in the hospital with his child for an appointment, who stepped in to help.  And the clinic staff who watched his child in the meantime.

4.  Innovation – We commit to breakthrough solutions with continuous learning.

The many people who made creative suggestions of ways we can make our response even better should we ever need to in the future.

The communications team who use various means to get information out via email, Intranet, Twitter, etc. to try to keep people informed.

5.  Health – We are at our best.

The behavioral health providers who canceled clinics to be available as a resource for staff, along with social workers, human resources, etc.

The environmental staff who within minutes of the “all clear” were out making sure our facility was clean and ready.

Every single person who stopped to ask someone else if they were OK and if they needed anything.

As the swarm of media vans and news helicopters attests, this is the kind of incident that draws a lot of attention.  News is, by definition, what doesn’t happen every day – it’s what’s not normal.  Our values, though, are a constant.  Not terribly newsworthy.  But as the attention fades, as we get back to our routine, I’m reflecting on how grateful I am to be part of an organization that lists and lives those values.  That’s our normal.

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