Teamwork in the Face of Disaster

Patient Care Manager Becky Sawyers with the Caris Sevierville office recounts the Gatlinburg forest fire:

The morning of November 28 started like any other Monday morning for our Caris team in Sevierville, Tennessee. Before our daily morning meeting, we talked about our weekend, sports and the wildfire burning in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We wondered which trails would be affected and how long it would be before the fire would be put out. Little did we know that by that evening we would be personally affected in so many ways by a fire that, as of Monday morning, was contained to the park.

Early that afternoon we were alerted that some residents in Gatlinburg were being evacuated as a precaution. We had only one patient in the area. He lived several miles from the park and, while I believed he was safe, I gave him a call to check on him. He reported he was fine—and safe—and definitely not being evacuated. I asked him to keep his TV on for any alerts and he laughed a little, saying he would but that I should not worry so much.

By now the afternoon sky had turned dark with a red tint. Ash was seen floating around near our office and smoke was filling the air around Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Staff members commented on how weird the sky looked and complained of the smoke and ash. The wind was picking up.

Before leaving the office at 5:00 pm, I called our patient in Gatlinburg to check on him again. He reported that he continued to be fine and was not being evacuated. He said he had been told that the fires were still confined to the park and that people from the upper end of Gatlinburg were being evacuated—but only because of the smoke.

I arrived home to find that we had lost power. After dinner we turned on our scanner for information about the power outage. We immediately heard a report that the fire was on the road to our home. My husband opened the blinds behind us to see if he could see flashing lights from fire trucks. What we saw will be forever etched in our memory. The fire was raging in the woods and homes beside our house. We knew we had to get out immediately. I grabbed our indoor pets and my husband went out to gather our outdoor pets. A man approached our house and screamed, “Get out now!” My husband and I, with pets in tow, took off in separate vehicles. But approximately a half mile from our home we found our route blocked by a fallen tree. I would spend the next 90 minutes waiting as my husband and neighbors attempted to remove the tree and watching in my rear view mirror as homes burned.

At the same time, the crisis was now affecting some of our patients. Sandi Klontz, the Nurse on Call took the first call at 8:54 pm. Two patients, a husband and wife, were in immediate danger. They could see the fire and needed to be evacuated. The wife was bedbound; she had not been out of bed for three years. Sandi later would talk about the fear she felt and how she cried, but right then her nurse’s instincts and training kicked in. She started a group in PerfectServe (PerfectServe is a HIPAA-compliant app Caris care teams use to communicate quickly, effectively and securely) with Social Worker Jennifer Smith, Sevierville Administrator Robin Kountz and myself]. Duties were delegated. Jennifer called for immediate ambulance transport for the two patients to the home of their daughter. I called other patients near the multiple fires that were now burning across the area. Robin coordinated communications and ensured necessary decisions were made promptly. The last PerfectServe message for the night, at 11:47 pm, reported all patients were safe, had what they needed and would be called again in the morning.

As a result of the fires, the landscape around Gatlinburg and Sevierville will be forever changed—as will the Sevierville team. In the months to come we will mourn the loss of friends and cherished possessions, we will volunteer our time to help our neighbors rebuild, we will talk about how Gatlinburg used to look and we will remember the night our team and a phone app worked so closely and efficiently to protect “our people.”

Tagged with: ,
Posted in News at Caris

Contact Us

Support Center
10651 Coward Mill Rd.
Knoxville, TN 37931

Phone: 866-694-4848

Fax: 866-694-7878

(No solicitation)

quality

Outstanding Patient Care

All Caris hospice teams include a nurse on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
2014-03-05T21:02:00+00:00
quality
All Caris hospice teams include a nurse on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
excellence

Operational Excellence

In 2011, Caris Director of Family Services David Fleming was awarded the Champion of Excellence award from the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence.
2014-03-05T21:03:23+00:00
excellence
In 2011, Caris Director of Family Services David Fleming was awarded the Champion of Excellence award from the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence.
widget-3

Operational Excellence

In 2013, Caris was awarded the Pinnacle Award for Business Excellence in the large business category by the Knoxville Chamber.
2014-03-05T21:03:10+00:00
widget-3
In 2013, Caris was awarded the Pinnacle Award for Business Excellence in the large business category by the Knoxville Chamber.
quality

Outstanding Patient Care

Ninety-three percent of Caris employees say they intend to stay with Caris for the next several years.
2014-03-05T21:02:15+00:00
quality
Ninety-three percent of Caris employees say they intend to stay with Caris for the next several years.
quality

Outstanding Patient Care

Caris is grateful and honored to have touched the lives of more than 26,000 patients and their families in the last 10 years.
2014-03-05T21:02:31+00:00
quality
Caris is grateful and honored to have touched the lives of more than 26,000 patients and their families in the last 10 years.
services

Exceptional Service

“Calling Caris wasn’t giving up on my wife. It was just the opposite – it gave her more.” —   Donald M.
2014-03-05T21:05:58+00:00
services
“Calling Caris wasn’t giving up on my wife. It was just the opposite – it gave her more.” —   Donald M.
services

Exceptional Service

“I could never have words to tell my gratitude to Caris and their caring and compassionate staff! You are truly angels of mercy!” —   Maria S.
2014-03-05T21:04:23+00:00
services
“I could never have words to tell my gratitude to Caris and their caring and compassionate staff! You are truly angels of mercy!” —   Maria S.
services

Exceptional Service

“I feel at Caris, we add life to days, not days to live.” —   Dr. Jamie Oakley
2014-03-05T21:06:40+00:00
services
“I feel at Caris, we add life to days, not days to live.” —   Dr. Jamie Oakley
services

Exceptional Service

“It was so beneficial to have someone with vast experience who could answer our questions so that we could feel that Mom was receiving the best care possible at all times. This service is so important to those whose life is ending as well as their families.” —   Gary M.
2014-03-05T21:04:02+00:00
services
“It was so beneficial to have someone with vast experience who could answer our questions so that we could feel that Mom was receiving the best care possible at all times. This service is so important to those whose life is ending as well as their families.” —   Gary M.
services

Exceptional Service

“Why wait to call? I’d much rather have my husband comfortable for six months than six days.” —   Mallory B.
2014-03-05T21:05:39+00:00
services
“Why wait to call? I’d much rather have my husband comfortable for six months than six days.” —   Mallory B.
excellence

Operational Excellence

In 2014, the Caris Myrtle Beach, SC and Somerville, TN offices received the Deyta Hospice Honors Award for achieving the highest levels of patient satisfaction.
2014-04-25T16:09:26+00:00
excellence
In 2014, the Caris Myrtle Beach, SC and Somerville, TN offices received the Deyta Hospice Honors Award for achieving the highest levels of patient satisfaction.
services

Exceptional Service

“Caris came into my son’s life at a time when he really needed kindness shown to him and I’m really thankful.” —   Roberta M.
2014-03-05T21:06:20+00:00
services
“Caris came into my son’s life at a time when he really needed kindness shown to him and I’m really thankful.” —   Roberta M.
services

Exceptional Service

“It takes special people to bear so many people’s burdens at such a critical time. I wouldn’t have done without Caris.” —   Mallory B.
2014-03-05T21:06:57+00:00
services
“It takes special people to bear so many people’s burdens at such a critical time. I wouldn’t have done without Caris.” —   Mallory B.
services

Exceptional Service

“Our hospice nurse showed great care while working with my mom, and gave me tremendous support. God bless you all and Caris for doing what you do at the end of someone’s life.” —   Susan T.
2014-03-05T21:05:07+00:00
services
“Our hospice nurse showed great care while working with my mom, and gave me tremendous support. God bless you all and Caris for doing what you do at the end of someone’s life.” —   Susan T.
quality

Outstanding Patient Care

Eighty-eight percent of Caris employees say they would be likely to recommend Caris as one of the best places to work in the community.
2014-03-03T16:44:28+00:00
quality
Eighty-eight percent of Caris employees say they would be likely to recommend Caris as one of the best places to work in the community.
services

Exceptional Service

“The Caris hospice team was wonderful! My family could not have asked for any better care than what was given to my father. The nurses would talk to us as if they had no other patients at all. Please don’t change any of the care that you provide.”

—   Janie B.
2014-03-05T21:05:19+00:00
services
“The Caris hospice team was wonderful! My family could not have asked for any better care than what was given to my father. The nurses would talk to us as if they had no other patients at all. Please don’t change any of the care that you provide.” —   Janie B.
services

Exceptional Service

“Caris cares for and makes life easier for my patients and their families at the most difficult time of their lives. Caris helps my patients leave this life comfortably; both psychologically as well as physically.”
– Dr. Burgin Dossett
2014-03-03T16:39:59+00:00
services
“Caris cares for and makes life easier for my patients and their families at the most difficult time of their lives. Caris helps my patients leave this life comfortably; both psychologically as well as physically.” – Dr. Burgin Dossett
services

Exceptional Service

“I would like to thank the whole Caris team for their thoughtfulness. They made sure about my husband’s dignity and helped us to fulfill his last wishes. The Caris team that cared for Billy and the way you helped us was very special. There was always someone to give us that little touch so we could go that next step.” —   Margie W.
2014-03-05T21:04:53+00:00
services
“I would like to thank the whole Caris team for their thoughtfulness. They made sure about my husband’s dignity and helped us to fulfill his last wishes. The Caris team that cared for Billy and the way you helped us was very special. There was always someone to give us that little touch so we could go that next step.” —   Margie W.
excellence

Operational Excellence

In 2010, Caris was honored by a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award visit.
2014-03-05T21:02:51+00:00
excellence
In 2010, Caris was honored by a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award visit.
excellence

Operational Excellence

In 2014, the Caris Johnson City office was recognized by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization as a Level 4 “We Honor Veterans” partner.
2014-04-25T16:10:07+00:00
excellence
In 2014, the Caris Johnson City office was recognized by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization as a Level 4 “We Honor Veterans” partner.
excellence

Operational Excellence

In 2008, Caris was awarded the prestigious Excellence Award from the Tennessee Center of Performance Excellence.
2014-03-05T21:03:40+00:00
excellence
In 2008, Caris was awarded the prestigious Excellence Award from the Tennessee Center of Performance Excellence.