To the Editor:
The Nathaniel Witherell, our Town’s 202-bed skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, wishes to express its gratitude and admiration to the Greenwich Emergency Management Operations Center for its swift and effective response to our needs in coping with the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy. At the height of Hurricane Sandy our census (percentage of beds occupied) was 94%, including 4 elderly guests delivered to us by the American Red Cross after the evacuation of their homes. On Monday, October 29, like so many others in Greenwich, Witherell’s power went down at about 5 p.m. Our 37-year old emergency generator kicked in but, unfortunately it produces only a portion of the power required by the building. Project Renew will address this issue with a new generator and electrical distribution system but, for now, the generator assures that only our basic needs can be met ... cooking, heat/hot water, corridor lighting and one elevator.
But what makes huge weather events like Hurricane Sandy so difficult is their impact on our staffing. We normally operate with three employee shifts on a 24/7 basis every day of the year. Initially, the staggering damage caused by Sandy to trees and power lines on Parsonage Road and neighboring streets made it impossible for staff to reach or leave the building. Every road to Witherell was blocked. When our Director, Allen Brown, reported conditions to Dan Warzoha, the Town’s Emergency Management Director, Dan dispatched a pre-organized team of (i) tree maintenance personnel from the Town’s Department of Parks & Recreation, (ii) personnel from the Town’s Department of Public Works, (iii) a crew from Northeast Utilities and (iv) several private tree contractors. This team, together with their heavy equipment, worked overnight to open a route to our building assuring access for emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks. As a result much of our morning staff was able to get to work on Tuesday. Many walked down Parsonage Road in the dawn’s early light to report to work, avoiding downed power lines and trees. One of our Food Service employees even parked in the vacant Greenwich Country Day School parking lot on Old Church Road and hiked through the woods of St. Mary’s cemetery at night during the height of the storm to make sure he was here to help cook breakfast for our residents.
At 7:45 a.m. on October 31 our emergency generator failed and we again reported the problem to the Town’s Emergency Management Operations Center. Within minutes, Gene and Paul from the Town’s Fleet Department arrived with a supply of fuel and the tools, equipment and expertise to coax our generator back to life. It operated until full power was restored late in the day.
So many people deserve credit for helping us weather Hurricane Sandy: the staff who stayed overnight on Sunday and/or Monday, those who reported to work the following morning despite problems with blocked roads, the dangers of falling trees and limbs and downed power lines and the many staff who worked double or triple shifts to make sure that there were no interruption in Nathaniel Witherell’s services. As noted above Dan Warzoha and his team at the Emergency Management Operations Center deserve our special thanks for their swift coordination of Town and private services.
Chairman, The Nathaniel Witherell