The Detroit metropolitan area seemed like one massive igloo at the start of 2014, when it got slammed with the worst January snowfall since the National Weather Service started keeping records. All told, more than 3 feet of snow fell that month, breaking the old record by 10 inches.
That didn't stop employees at Beaumont Hospital from making it in to work. According to Gene Michalski, Beaumont Health System president and CEO, as the weather raged, the hospital's home health service staffers didn't miss a single patient visit, even during a post-New Year's blizzard that dumped a foot of snow on the area in a single night. Tiffany Steffis, a secretary for Beaumont Home Health Services, rode three buses for 3 ½ hours to get to work one day, Michalski says. She left home early and made it to the hospital on time.
Tammy Hawkins, a vascular technologist who works midnights at Beaumont, lives in Durand, a farm town outside of Lansing, Mich. Even on clear days, she has a long haul to work, covering 65 miles each way. Despite blizzard conditions, 5-foot snowdrifts and subzero temperatures, she made it to work on time at 7 p.m. on Jan. 5. She gave herself three hours to make the trek, and along the way picked up a co-worker.
"I decided to give it a shot and see if I could to it," says Hawkins, who has two school-age kids. "I like my job. I think it's important. A couple of times, when I was pulling over every 20 feet to clear my windshield wipers, I thought about turning around, but once I got to a certain distance, I figured there was no point."
She wasn't a lone wolf. "Pretty much everybody on second shift was there," Hawkins recalls. "The next morning some people had to call in because they were stuck in their driveways or weren't able to manage the roads. But we ended up having enough people."
With the snow still hammering the area through the night, Hawkins, who lives on a dirt road, figured she wouldn't make it home and back in time for Monday's overnight shift. She stuck around, sleeping in an empty outpatient room until Monday night. When she left for home Tuesday morning, she took a detour to the home of a friend with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, who drove her the rest of the way.
Sue Tottingham, a patient registrar at the Beaumont Medical Center in Lake Orion, Mich., got stuck in her unplowed 700-foot driveway while trying to get to work during the early January snowstorm. When neighbors living five minutes away offered to take her, her husband shuttled her to their place on the family snowmobile.
"I've been working here six years. I wasn't going to break my perfect attendance record," Tottingham says. "But it's not about breaking a record. I feel it's my responsibility to be there."
She says the roads were so bad that day, her husband could have driven the snowmobile on the expressway.
Michalski says that throughout the hospital, employees really stepped up and braved the elements. "These folks, they're heroes," he says. "They're doing carpooling. Their spouses are helping them get to work. Single-family parents are relying on friends, neighbors and families to help them out. It's really a community effort."
Some workers took on extra shifts to fill in for staff who couldn't make it in. Groundspeople used hospital vehicles to pick up stranded employees. A laboratory worker bought coffee for all the snowplow drivers who were working overtime to make sure the parking lot was clear.
"We're happy, we're proud, and we're blessed to have them," says Michalski.