'Controlled Chaos': Avera ER comes together during tornado

Published: Sep. 15, 2019 at 8:25 PM CDT
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Powerful tornadoes left a path of destruction earlier this week toppling trees and knocking out power to thousands of homes. Both the Avera Heart and Behavioral Health Hospital were severely damaged.

The Avera Heart Hospital was right in the line of the tornado where hospital staff recently had a disaster drill. They prepared for a mass casualty situation but thankfully that didn't happen.

“It was a scene out of a movie that day," Nurse Kelsey Benedetto with the Avera Heart Hospital said.

Tuesday night’s powerful EF-2 tornadoes were a shock to many. The Avera Heart Hospital ER staff was attending to patients when chaos erupted.

"Then the tornado warning came over everybody's phone simultaneously. We kind of looked at each other and the first thing I did was look at the radar on my phone," Dr. Jeff Anderson with the Avera Heart Hospital said.

Nurses and doctors took action as fast as they could.

"We heard this roar and this rush of wind and the feeling and the sensation of the ceiling tiles lifting in the building. All of our ears popped," Dr. Anderson said.

"The broken glass was like shrapnel. It was flying. It was across the building," Benedetto said.

Hospital staff called a code black to start moving patients into the hallways for cover. Some were hiding in the bathrooms. The tornado was over as fast as it began.

"We just looked at each other and it was that panicky sensation of oh boy I’m in the wrong place," Dr. Anderson said.

Doctors and nurses went into an operational mode not skipping a beat making sure their patients were taken care of.

"We made these clipboards to expedite our care to our patients and we had them all tagged by numbers," Benedetto said.

With multiple injuries being reported at Avera Behavioral Health just down the way and having a man's life saved after a severe cardiac event during the tornado, they had to make a plan.

"And what we thought would never happen here helped us give the appropriate and quick speedy care to these patients," Benedetto said.

"The response of the staff, the people that came in and just showed up was incredible. I had an ER full of personnel," Dr. Anderson said.

"It was chaos but it was controlled chaos and I look back on that day and I’m very proud of what happened here," Benedetto said.

Benedetto wasn't even on staff that night, but she only lives four blocks away from where she was hiding in the basement with her husband and children.

She said it's all about the community and the patients to make sure they're safe. She also added that the building could easily be repaired.