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'I didn't want to let them down': Texas nurses brave snow, ice to serve patients

While many are staying inside, trying to stay warm, two Austin nurses knew missing work wasn't an option. So they walked.

AUSTIN, Texas — As a blanket of snow coated the roads early Monday morning, driving didn't seem to be an option for two Austin nurses. But neither was missing work. 

"I bundled up and I put on my boots and I changed my shoes and I already packed a bag thinking I was going to be staying here for a while," said Brooke Wilson, a labor and delivery nurse with St. David's Women's Center of Texas in North Austin. "So, I packed a bag and I headed out and I started walking."

Her walk to work took about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Amy Belknap, an oncology nurse manager with Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin, walked a mile to get to her job.  

Credit: Ascension Seton

"I started a little bit before the sun rose, so there was nobody out. And it was actually the roads, like no one had driven on them yet. So, the snow is really pretty. It was really peaceful," Belknap said. "But, yeah, definitely, not what you expect in Austin, Texas." 

Belknap made sure she was clear that she wasn't the only one doing everything they could to get to work to care for patients and to relieve team members at Ascension Seton. 

Credit: Ascension Seton

"Martin, who does our floors, he walked almost two hours to get to work," she said, noting another employee opted to come in on her days off since she lives close by. 

Like many first responders, there isn't much time for sleep for the health care workers.

"I have slept for two hours, but I am not unique in this situation," Belknap said. "We've been rotating staff so that we can give everybody breaks and take turns. And I'm really proud of the team up here. We have just been looking out for each other and helping each other out throughout this very unusual time."

Both nurses were still working on Tuesday, something both are proud of.

"Hospitals never shut down. They're 24/7. So, even whenever you have crazy weather and unique situations, people still need your care. And so, I really felt like I needed to get in for them and needed to get in for the nurses that were on the floor and needing some breaks," Belknap said.

Credit: St. David's Women's Center of Texas

Wilson echoed Belknap's concern for coworkers. 

"I didn't want to let them down. I didn't want people to be spread thin. That's not safe for patients. It's not safe for us," Wilson said. "It's much more emotionally draining if you have to take on a higher patient load just out of necessity because of the emergency situation that we're in."

Wilson said babies don't wait for better weather – they come when they come. 

"My unit is just one of many where people are having to get here and do their job. Babies aren't waiting for anybody, but there's emergencies are happening all the time," Wilson said. "So, we have great people all over the hospital that are helping keep things going."

Along with caring for coworkers, both nurses said their patients are their priority. 

"I mean, that's why I come to work every day. That's why I chose to do what I do like. That's what drives me. That's the driving force is just I love, I love the people I work with. I love what I do. I love delivering babies. I love being here," Wilson said. "And honestly, I can say with 100% certainty that every single baby being born here means a lot to me and everyone that's here."

"So, the walk was worth it?" KVUE Reporter Molly Oak asked. 

"Oh, yeah, definitely. I'll do it again," Wilson said with a smile. 

KVUE also asked St. David's, Ascension Seton and Baylor Scott & White how each health care system is supporting staff.

The following statement is from St. David's:

"All hospitals are providing sleeping arrangements, toiletries, meal vouchers and shower facilities for employees so that they do not have to travel to and from the hospital while the roadways are unsafe and can remain at the hospital to continue to care for patients. St. David’s HealthCare’s Disaster Pay Policy also allows staff to be paid their base rate the entire time they are in the hospital—even while sleeping. Employees are also given an hourly disaster stipend while working."

The following statement is from Ascension Seton:

"The health and safety of patients and associates are always our top priorities. Ascension Seton hospitals, including Dell Children's Medical Center, remain open and staffed as usual. All of our hospitals have an emergency response plan in place to provide uninterrupted patient care. We are prepared to be responsive to rapidly evolving weather conditions and have reserved nearby hotel rooms for associates who may be unable to travel following their hospital shifts. Ascension Medical Group Seton has transitioned most scheduled clinic visits to virtual visits. Individuals should not delay if they are experiencing emergency medical symptoms."

The following statement is from Baylor Scott & White:

"Our teams continuously prepare throughout the year to safely provide care for our communities during a variety of situations. This preparedness includes hosting drills, testing backup power sources, practicing emergency communications systems, and more. Our leaders worked over the past week to prepare – making arrangements for team members to remain onsite at the hospital and at nearby hotels to accommodate those working during this unprecedented and prolonged winter storm. We are closely monitoring staffing needs and working quickly to deploy team members and resources as needed. 

We urge the community to stay indoors when possible and to proceed with great caution if going out in these dangerous conditions, as we are seeing an increasing number of weather-related injuries in our emergency departments. 

As a reminder, all Baylor Scott & White hospitals remain open. Most Baylor Scott & White clinics will reschedule appointments or provide care virtually on Tuesday, February 16, and drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites will be closed. In-person and vaccine appointments scheduled for Tuesday, February 16, are being rescheduled. 

Virtual care options are available at MyBSWHealth.com or on the MyBSWHealth app. To download, text BETTER to 88408."

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