MY DEPARTMENT (EDUCATION) WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR CHILD CARE DURING HURRICANES

When I lived in central Florida, the education department at the hospital where I worked was responsible for childcare during hurricanes or other disasters. I'll just share a little bit about that in this list. None of the pictures are mine. They are all from Google images. I want to apologize for any spelling and grammar mistakes I make.
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    We were not a licensed childcare facility by any means. We were set up as an emergency shelter for children of essential employees so they could come in and care for patients.
    We only opened the shelter during a declared emergency. The decision to keep it open was reassessed every 12 hours because our nurses and professional staff generally worked 12 hour shifts - 7A to 7P or 7P to 7A. We would send a mass email to everyone when the shelter would be open or when it was closing and we would alert the staffing office so they could let employees know if they called in sick because of childcare.
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    We were located in central Florida and rarely experienced severe hurricanes. By the time they hit us they were usually down to a category 2 or below. But people came to us from other hospitals closer to the landfall area. People got injured during hurricanes, and some people on life-support at home would come in when there was a power outage.
    Some category two hurricanes can be very damaging. We did experience wind damage and severe flooding even from category 1 & 2 hurricanes. During the eight years I worked there, we opened the shelter 4 times, all category 2. We probably had more because my husband said I am only remembering the year that we had four in one summer. He is probably right because I have this recently diagnosed cognitive dysfunction. But these are the ones I do remember clearly enough to list about.
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    Our hospital was pretty big for being in the middle of Central Florida and so was our education department.
    Education departments are considered non-essential for patient care. This made us and our physical space available during disasters.
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    We had 16 employees who provided orientation, BLS, ACLS, PALS, and Advanced Stroke Life Support programs, continuing education for 11 licensed health professions, seminars, conferences, the medical library, media setup and storage, a simulation lab, and diabetes education.
    Eight or nine of us were nurses with knowledge, skills, and experience in pediatric growth and development and of course, first aid. Most of the staff were also parents. We were a pretty good group to care for the children of employees during hurricanes.
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    We had 4 large classrooms that could be divided if half with accordion doors making a total of 8 smaller ones.
    We used this space to divide up the children into groups based on age, number of staff available, and the level of care needed.
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    We also had a large auditorium that could seat 150 people.
    We used this to show movies three times a day, mid morning, mid afternoon, and after supper. All movies were rated appropriately for the age group viewing them. Sometimes we passed out snacks during the movies.
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    We kept a stash of toys that could be cleaned and disinfected, books, games and puzzles for for older kids, and a rather large DVD library.
    All the toys were donated by staff or volunteers. Each classroom also had a TV with a DVD player. I left Florida nine years ago. Back then we still used CDs and we had lots of kid's music CDs. Our hospital's closed circuit TV had one of those restful stress-relieving channels and we would play that before nap times and bed times to help the children quiet down.
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    We had a check-in station. When children arrived their parents signed a release form and provided some basic information we needed such as age, health concerns, allergies, or special needs.
    Although we were nurses we did not administer any medication to the children. Their parents would have to come down from their unit to do that because of the pharmacy policies.
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    We put an arm band on each kid with their name, age, parent's name and unit, and parent's phone. We only cared for the children of people who were required to work to care for the patients and only while they were working.
    Each time, a few parents would try to get around this and bring their kids even if they were off that day so they could cleanup damage at home without the kids in the way. We understood their need but we did not have enough staff and resources for that.
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    The staff in our department would huddle a few days in advance of the hurricane when it became clear we were going to be in the path. We signed up for either the day or night shift. Three or 4 people who lived pretty far away were asked to come in four or five days into the disaster to relieve those of us who had been there from the beginning.
    Most of us brought in a sleeping bag or a cot, changes of clothes, and toiletries and slept in our offices when we weren't watching the kids. Some people from our department brought their own kids in with them because once the child care opened, we became essential. There were showers in different parts of the hospital that we could use. Sometimes we would get lucky and there would be some empty patient rooms we could rotate using for sleep.
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    The hospital provided all meals and snacks free to the kids and us during the emergency. Depending on how many kids we had, sometimes we reserved one classroom for meals and snacks so it was easier to keep the place clean.
    Food services would bring breakfast. lunch, & supper at set times. Night shift kids got early breakfast before they went home. Food was simple & not always healthy. Examples of breakfast are cereal, yogurt, & hard boiled eggs. Lunch & dinner examples are sandwiches, burgers, pizza, chicken, mac & cheese, & pasta, with sides like beans, potatoes, and vegetables. Example snacks are fruit, cookies, muffins, chips, & crackers with cheese. They always had a variety, beverages, & plenty for everyone
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    Kids could bring a sleeping bag of their own and a toy but we did not allow anything that couldn't be disinfected or anything electronic or expensive. They could have phones but only use them if they asked us first. Back then only a few of the teenagers had them.
    Parents would write in the child's belongings upon arrival and sign off that they understood other kids might play with it and that it could be damaged or lost.
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    We accepted kids from infant to age 18. There was a statement in the waiver that teenagers would most likely be called upon to help with the younger kids by reading to them, helping some of them eat, or other simple things within their skill set.
    We learned from experience that you need to keep the teenagers busy all the time or they will get themselves into trouble. Separating them out to help with the other kids was very effective. Most of them really did like being busy and they like to help if they have some direction and praise. Of course some of the kids were difficult, but most were okay. Some kids loved it there and didn't want to go home! We kept them busy all day.
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    At night we provided 2 sheets, a blanket, and a pillow for each kid & parents knew they were going to be sleeping on the carpeted floor unless they brought a sleeping bag. Kids still in a crib at home were provided with a crib and linens for it. We tried to keep the ratio of staff to kids at 1:4 for infants under 2 and 1:10 for toddlers and pre-K
    Nurses usually took the younger kids. Bedtime was 8P for younger kids and 10P for older kids. We separated them by age and/or gender at night depending on how many we had and how many staff we had to watch them. Sometimes our staff did get stuck and couldn't get in. Other times they became exhausted after 2 days and we let them go home or just rest that shift because we had some older folks in the department not used to watching young kids for 12 hours.
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    Sometimes volunteers helped us but not always. Several of these disasters went on for more than several weeks because schools were still closed. They were being used for shelters.
    Our county had a lot of damage and flooding and people couldn't get back home for a while. So they needed to keep the shelters open.
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    We were lucky to have a set of restrooms by the auditorium that had changing stations.
    Kids had to be accompanied by an adult staff regardless of age because we were responsible for their safety. There was an exit door near the restrooms that worried us. We wanted to make sure nobody got into trouble, went outside, or stayed in there too long. And also the little kids needed help. We took them there in groups during some set times, such as after meals and before bed. We used hand sanitizer and wipes in the classroom before and after each meal. The hospital provided all that stuff.
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    For two of the hurricanes we had 30 to 50 kids each shift of various ages and it was quite manageable. We usually had about 5-7 adults per shift. We bonded and had fun together playing with the kids, reading to them, singing, and organizing games.
    Between the classrooms and they auditorium we had an open lobby space where people would register for events in the auditorium. In the daytime we would take the kids down there in groups based on age, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, to do something active so they could expand some energy. So for two events we had a lot of fun playing duck, duck, goose and similar games. We had jump ropes, ring toss, and a beanbag game. The kid sometimes just made their own games and ran around.
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    Two of the hurricanes were much more challenging. We had about 90 kids each day shift and 60 at night for at least seven days in a row. The conditions prevented many of our staff from getting in and barely anyone volunteered. Our hospital itself lost the human resource building and sustained damage elsewhere.
    There were a lot of infants and toddlers and not many teens to help us. The classrooms were overcrowded with kids and we had to take them to the cafeteria to eat which was very challenging when you only have five or six people to help with them. Just trying to register them all took a lot of time and the parents were getting upset. There were about 4 hours one morning when 4 of us had 92 kids. Flooding was massive & some people, including our department secretary, lost their homes completely.
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    So this is the story of being in charge of a shelter/child care center during hurricanes in Florida. Harvey and Irma triggered my memories of the experience. Please everyone, prepare, evacuate if necessary, and be careful. Sending love, peace, hope, and prayers...πŸ’œβœŒπŸΌπŸŒΉπŸ™πŸΌ