Raging floodwaters from
what emergency officials described as a 1,000-year event hit West Virginia on
June 23-24, claiming at least 23 lives and testing the resolve of first-responders
and whole communities—including long term care facilities.
quickly filled creeks and rivers. Fast-rising floodwaters destroyed property,
isolated communities, and endangered tens of thousands, including numerous long
term care facility residents, employees, and their families. Gov. Earl Ray
Tomblin declared a state of emergency on June 24 in 44 of the state’s 55
counties. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials arrived to evaluate
At least three West
Virginia long term care facilities coped with the disaster:
- In Richwood, W.Va., fast-rising water forced the evacuation of 96
residents in the Nicholas County Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. Water in
the building reportedly was five feet deep.
View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Harrisville evacuated all 56
residents after torrential rain overwhelmed the local sewage system, gushing
water into the building through toilets.
Rainelle, where at least three area residents died during the disaster,
floodwater surrounded the Meadow Garden long term care facility. The isolated
building lost commercial power, water, and telephone service.
Virginia Health Care Association (WVHCA) notified members about the flooding
and evacuations, and the members accepted dozens of residents who had to be
evacuated from their facilities.
Nicholas County Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
As floodwaters rose in
Richwood, Nicholas County Nursing & Rehabilitation Center employees safely
evacuated 95 residents in less than an hour as water rose in the building.
Staff members initially
took the center’s residents to higher ground at
nearby Liberty Baptist Church before assigning them to 24 facilities in the
Several Nicholas County
Nursing and Rehabilitation employees lost their homes and/or all possessions,
but they feel fortunate to be alive, that their families are safe, and their
residents are okay.
owner of Nicholas County Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, provided comments
from the caregivers who support residents in the facility.
“It was just
devastating,” said Mary Overbaugh of the Nicholas staff. “The water was running
off the hillside, mudslides coming right into town. It wasn’t just the river,
the water came up instantly.
“We were in water waist
deep—trying to get our residents out of the building. It was horrifying,” she
“I have been with the
facility for 18 years, and these people are my family,” Overbaugh continued.
“We had to carry them up the hillside and laid them on blankets. We didn’t
think about anything except that we had to get our residents to safety.
“We got them all out safe
and didn’t lose any lives. We got them out. The water came up so fast, it was
horrifying. Like I said, that’s my family. You take care of your family.”
Nicholas colleague Mary
Caufield said, “I want our residents to know how proud I am of them. I am sure
this was difficult, and some had to come out through the water. They are so
brave. We just want them to be safe and happy.
“We were doing our job,
but they were troopers,” Caufield said. “They are so brave!”
Sherry Gower, a licensed
practical nurse at Nicholas for 26 years, considers her colleagues and the
residents to be family as well.
“We have staff members
that lost their homes, and they did not leave our residents. They stayed with
them to make sure they were all safe without thinking of their own homes and
losses,” she said.
“I just want to commend
them and all the people that helped our residents to safety: the ambulances,
the school buses that came to transport, former employees, and the community
surrounding the building showing up to help and the other facilities that came
immediately to pick up our residents and admit to their facilities three and
four and five at a time, bringing warm blankets and clothing for immediate
Pine View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Owner and Administrator Lynda Kirk
said Pine View staff members recognized their challenge immediately and took
action. They notified local emergency responders after water entered the
building and initially moved residents to the local Lion’s Club.
From there, Pine View sent 27
residents to a sister facility, Mound View Health Care, in Moundsville, W.Va.,
about 75 miles away. Twenty residents went to hospitals in adjoining counties.
With the assistance of Stonerise—a
West Virginia-based long term care company—Kirk quickly placed the remaining
residents. All were safely housed by 5:00 p.m. Thursday, June 23, said Kirk,
who expressed her appreciation for the quick, professional response from
A former president of the West
Virginia Health Care Association, Kirk credited her staff with responding
promptly and professionally.
“I’ve worked in this business since I
was eight years old, and I’ve never had to evacuate a building,” said Kirk, who
recently celebrated her 80th birthday with a party at Pine View. “We take our
drills very seriously, and this proves you cannot have enough drills.”
She said she hopes to reopen the facility in about one month.
Holster began working at Meadow Garden in March, and she already has seen her
staff meet an unprecedented challenge head on.
Holster said she and her team began
to realize the magnitude of flooding on June 23, when day-shift employees
returned to Meadow Garden, unable to get home.
Meadow Garden soon would lose utility
services as thunderstorms drove up the level of a nearby stream. Water
surrounded the building. Employees could neither leave nor get to Meadow
Garden, and many at work knew their homes were at risk from flooding. One
employee’s grandson perished in the flood.
“We watched the water rising,”
Holster said. “Through [Thursday] evening, we put together a plan—who would
work and who would sleep and how we would take care of residents.”
Fortunately, floodwater didn’t enter
the facility, which is situated on a knoll, Holster said. In the meantime,
Meadow Garden staff took in local residents who escaped the high water, warmed
them, and gave them food.
The community, she said, generously
assisted. Four young men brought diesel fuel for the facility’s generator. On
Friday, two Virginia firefighters and a West Virginia state trooper transported
two registered nurses, an LPN, and the maintenance supervisor in a raft to
Meadow Garden to provide the staff much-needed relief.
Lack of telephone service created problems,
Holster said. Some residents’ families believed Meadow Garden evacuated its
residents, and they had no way of knowing their loved ones were safe in the
After the water subsided, Harper
Mills—a sister Stonerise facility in Beckley—brought fresh linens and took away
dirty laundry so Meadow Garden staff could concentrate on caring for the
facility’s 59 residents, Holster said.
“The residents were good,” she said.
“We tried to keep everything as normal as we could.”
Sadly, she said, six or seven Meadow
Garden employees lost their homes, and 25 employees altogether—about one-third
of the work force—lost personal belongings.
The ordeal gave Holster a
picture of employees who responded professionally and effectively under duress.
“Not one person worked
alone,” she said. “They pulled together as a team. They knew what needed to be
done, and they took care of it. It was an ordeal, but it shows what you’re made
“There were a lot of
people praying for us, and their prayers were answered,” she said.
“I feel like I work in
the best building in West Virginia, and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Dan Page is director of
communications of the West Virginia Health Care Association.