St. Joseph PACE staff ensures clients' safety in Hurricane Florence

November 1, 2018


Just two years after Hurricane Matthew devastated the Carolinas with widespread and deadly flooding, the Sept. 14 Category 1 Hurricane Florence hit the same areas, killing at least 37 people in the Carolinas and Virginia and causing up to $45 billion in wind and water damage in those states.

A man paddles a kayak in a Fayetteville, N.C., neighborhood Sept. 17 in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence flooding.
Gerald Herbert/AP Photo

At the St. Joseph of the Pines continuum of care system in central North Carolina, its Program of All-Inclusive Care of the Elderly in Fayetteville, N.C., provided continual support to frail elderly clients and their caregivers throughout the storm — even hand-delivering supplies to their homes — and now is helping them to recover from storm impact. St. Joseph of the Pines is part of Trinity Health of Livonia, Mich.

Connie Goodson is executive director of the PACE center. She said through staff's efforts, clients "knew they were not alone. Many expressed gratitude for that."

Frail elderly
Although Fayetteville is more than 100 miles from the Atlantic coast, it's prone to flooding when hurricanes move inland and swell the Cape Fear River and other local waterways. Fayetteville experienced severe flooding two years ago when Hurricane Matthew soaked the area.

In advance of Hurricane Florence, PACE center leaders readied the center and its staff for the possibility that the storm would disrupt transportation and services, potentially endangering its frail clients. Center leaders organized phone trees and automatic call systems to communicate with the program's 115 staff members. So PACE could maintain continual contact with the center's 282 clients and their caregivers before, during and after the hurricane, leaders assigned staff members a list of clients to keep tabs on.

Mary John-Williams is assistant director of the PACE center and Steven Hall is a registered nurse. They said that the center had to close as Hurricane Florence approached. Staff called all PACE clients or their caregivers to ensure the clients had an evacuation plan and to make sure they had a week's supply of medications and staples on hand. Staff visited the homes of clients they could not reach by phone. By the time the hurricane hit, all had been accounted for.

As local waterways began to overflow, PACE staff continued their calls, making sure all clients remained safe. The vast majority had left their Fayetteville homes, most of them were staying with loved ones outside of the storm's path, though some went to local shelters.

At your service
Though the PACE center remained closed for five days following the hurricane because flooded roads made it inaccessible, Goodson, John-Williams and other staff covered an on-call phone line so that clients — or the staff who were contacting them — could report on emerging client needs. Hall and other staff responded to those needs, navigating around flooded and blocked roads to check on clients, to deliver medication and supplies to them and to support their caregivers.

Hall said he and other staff provided emotional support to the storm-weary elders they called on, praying with them and letting them know they weren't alone.

Goodson said that the center's frail, low-income, elderly clientele are vulnerable in the face of natural disasters because they may lack the capacity, energy and resources to prepare and recover.

Fayetteville's Suzanne Gover is among those grateful for the help given by staff of the St. Joseph of the Pines PACE program. Her mother, Helen Averitt, 86, an Alzheimer's patient, is a client. Two years ago, when Hurricane Matthew's torrential rains flooded a tributary of the Cape Fear River near her parents' home, the rising creek had blocked the only roadway leading out of the Averitts' neighborhood. Her mother had to be lifted in her wheelchair into a National Guard evacuation truck. To avoid a repeat stranding this year, Averitt, her husband, her son and the son's wife evacuated to 
Winston-Salem, N.C., as the storm neared.

The Averitts' home flooded and was uninhabitable upon their return, and they moved into a Fayetteville hotel. Gover said PACE sent a staff member there to care for her mother for a few hours each day so that her father could focus his attention on lining up home repairs. When it became clear he required more time to make those arrangements, PACE staff located a nearby nursing home offering respite care.

Gover said it has eased the minds of her family members to know Helen Averitt is safe and cared for as they concentrate on storm recovery.

Gover said of the PACE staff, "They were great all along. They asked us what we needed" and then provided solutions.

Employee benefit fund
While the PACE center and other St. Joseph of the Pines' facilities were spared notable damage from Hurricane Florence, the majority of the system's 750 staff members were not as fortunate, said Ted Natt, the system's community benefit and communications coordinator.

Natt said nearly 400 staff members have completed an online form requesting financial aid for storm recovery from St. Joseph of the Pines. They have reported property damage from wind and water. Many also requested financial relief for the cost of food lost during electricity outages.

St. Joseph is collecting funds through its foundation to respond to the requests for assistance. Natt estimates the system will disburse nearly $500,000 to employees affected by the storm.

Natt said the system has been overwhelmed by the generosity of associates as well as the generosity of its parent company, Trinity Health, which has contributed to the fund.

How to help affected staff

To contribute to the foundation aiding storm impacted employees of St. Joseph of the Pines, mail a donation to SJP Foundation, 100 Gossman Drive, Suite B Southern Pines, NC 28387.


Prayer after the storm

Editor’s note: At the height of Hurricane Florence, pastoral care staff at St. Joseph of the Pines wrote the following prayer as they contemplated the work and opportunities that lie ahead in the storm’s aftermath.

Prayer After the Storm
September 2018

As we give thanks for colleagues and friends who have supported us
   and kept us in their prayers,
   we humbly ask God's blessings upon them and their families.

May God heal all whose lives were touched by the storm.

May they know our continued care
   and our love.

May we draw courage from the generosity of friends and strangers.

May we be grateful for the opportunities we have been given,
   and learn from our failures.

May we be hospitable to criticism,
   and respectful of those who offer it.

May we find comfort and rest in the arms of our creator.

And may the light of this new day bring us hope,
   ever mindful of the One whose grace
   brought us safely through the night.



Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.