Hospitals took extraordinary measures — and faced tough choices — as New England was frozen into place Tuesday by howling winds and relentless snowfall.
From ferrying patients home in four-wheel-drive vans to fashioning temporary rooms out of waiting areas, hospital administrators got creative.
At South Shore Hospital, two Chevrolet Tahoes were rented to drive roughly two dozen discharged patients to their homes, with emergency medical technicians doubling as the van drivers and even shoveling out some of the patients’ walkways to gain access to their homes, hospital spokeswoman Sarah Darcy said.
In Boston, Brigham and Women’s Hospital teamed up with Fallon Ambulance Service for door-to-door service for some patients who lived as far as 45 miles away, said that hospital’s spokeswoman, Lori Schroth.
“The ambulance would drive them home once the hospital made sure that snow removal was done so they could enter the house and that they had electricity when they got there,” Schroth said.
The state Department of Public Health said in a statement that it was “in regular communication with hospitals, health care facilities, and emergency medical personnel across the Commonwealth to ensure safe patient care and necessary coordination throughout the blizzard.”
The bottom line:
The department advised hospitals to use extreme caution when discharging their patients during the storm.
Hospitals were urged not to let patients go when the winds were fierce or if people would need to travel long distances. It also suggested that, whenever possible, patients remain until later in the day, when the storm was expected to ease.
For some patients, especially those without cars who normally rely on public transportation, the prospect of finding a way home was daunting.
Matt Kaplan and his wife, Thaleia, were joyous over the birth of their first child, Indiana, at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. But their ebullience turned to anxiety when they realized that health insurance covered only a two-day stay, and that Thaleia was to be discharged Tuesday evening, amid the final throes of the storm.
The couple, who are here studying from England, are used to a more generous health insurance system. They were aghast to discover their temporary American health insurance plan insisted that it would not cover another night in the hospital.
With no car, and no cabs on the roads, Kaplan found a kindly Mount Auburn staffer who put him in touch with the hospital’s vice president. Not to worry, the couple was assured.
“He said, ‘I completely understand your situation and I want you to know I am going to make sure you are OK,’ ” Kaplan said.
Hospital administrators found another room for the couple, free of charge, “because that’s the right thing to do,” said hospital spokesman Michael O’Connell.
Some hospitals, such as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, opted to aggressively control the number of patients they accepted on Monday, knowing a storm was bearing down, to avoid having to discharge them at the height of the storm.
“We have been able to keep up by being careful and by taking only the most acute on transfers from other hospitals,” spokesman Jerry Berger said. “We normally take as many transfers as come our way.”
Some patients almost didn’t make it to the hospital.
State Police rescued a pregnant woman whose car had become stranded in the snow while she went into labor Tuesday morning in Leominster.
The woman was traveling with her husband from their home in Shirley to HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster at about 9:30 a.m. when they got stuck in a snowbank on the ramp from Route 2 to Route 12, said Sergeant Rob Choquette of the State Police Leominster barracks.
No one was injured, and the car wasn’t damaged, but the couple needed help to get moving because the ramp had not been plowed, said Lieutenant Jason LeBlanc of the Leominster Fire Department.
State Police took the woman to the hospital in a four-wheel-drive truck, LeBlanc said, while Leominster firefighters helped push the car out of the snowbank so the husband could drive it.