LAURA HALL: Sacred Heart doesn’t miss a beat during ice storm

Laura Hall | Under the Radar
Kathleen Gilles delivers trays to the patients with Art Miller, volunteer, and Patrick McHugh, sous chef.

The deep freeze that just passed our way created some unusual quandaries for those in the business of saving lives.

During the icy rain, sleet and snow, many businesses closed and most of us had the choice to stay home, warm and safe.  But hospitals work by different rules. 

I meet with Roger Hall, president of Sacred Heart Hospital of the Emerald Coast, who gives me some interesting stories about the lengths the hospital team went to in order to keep things safe and working properly. 

“One of our nurses lives in Tallahassee but he works a few shifts here,” Hall said. “Even with snow falling and roads beginning to ice, he made it to work and apologized for being five minutes late.”

Probably none of his patients knew what he had gone through to pull his regular shift. 

One of the surgeons, Dr. Robert Hruby, who lives in Niceville, made it across the Mid-Bay Bridge just before it closed.  Surgery was scheduled, so Hruby stayed at the hospital and found an empty room in the Family Birth Place to spend the night.  He wanted to be sure the hospital could cover anything that might happen during the storm. Although most all the roads north were impassable, there was still an active surgery schedule based on medical necessity. The hospital had to use AIRHeart helicopter service to bring in blood and blood products to keep a safe level for operations.

Staff, nurses, technicians, the housekeeping crew — everyone working in the hospital was impacted.  Sharon Abele, volunteer supervisor, soon realized many people suddenly had kids at home and no way to get care for them. 

Mobilizing volunteers she quickly set up a day-care center at the hospital to take care of the children of essential associates.  “Kids Camp” was set up and running for 12 hours a day for two days.

Sharon did not see her bed at home for any of that time.  I asked what went on and how she pulled that off so quickly.  I was told Sharon put out an SOS to volunteers who live close by and to associates not involved in patient care to take three hour shifts with the kids.  Ten to 12 kids were involved with coloring, Legos, movies, hide and seek and games galore. The volunteers and associates pulled it off.  I’m betting the kids had a pretty good time.

I talk with Art Miller, a volunteer, who lives close by and answered the call for help. The hospital was short on kitchen staff.  Art tells me, “I stacked sodas in the coolers, cut up a whole bunch of yams and probably cut up 100 tomatoes.” Don’t forget people in 58 beds must be fed a special diet morning, noon and night. In addition, the cafeteria must be prepared to feed visitors and staff.  Patrick McHugh, head sous chef, had his kid in camp while he prepared meals for the hospital.

I’m sure the community joins me in saying thanks to all who went above and beyond the call of duty for the welfare of others. Hall reminds me that our Sacred Heart hospital has won numerous national awards and three times been rated in the top 100 hospitals in the nation.  Everyday we are glad that Sacred Heart Hospital is in our neck of the woods.

Laura Hall is a Destin resident.  She explores area gardens and other local topics sometimes with her cavalier spaniel Annie in tow.  If you have a good topic, contact Laura at