For Pamela Temples, preparing for disasters has never been a hypothetical idea.
The respiratory director at LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early, Temples manages the hospital’s disaster team. She also teaches CPR and First Aid classes to hospital staff and out in the community.
The COVID-19 pandemic was not the first time her emergency management skills were put to the test.
Responding to Hurricane Michael
When Hurricane Michael passed through southwest Georgia in 2018, knocking out power through much of Early County, Temples didn’t leave the hospital for days.
She coordinated with the Emergency Management Agency (EMA), law enforcement, and the city government of Blakely to make sure the hospital had everything we needed to care for our vulnerable patients and support our staff.
Temples brought more than 20 people with supplemental oxygen needs to the hospital, caring for them around the clock with little sleep. And when a baby was born prematurely during the hurricane, she was there to support the baby’s breathing until they could be transported to the Phoebe Putney Health System’s neonatal unit in Albany.
Finding Her Calling at Hall Drug
In high school, Temples got a job at Hall Drug, in Blakely. The drug store had a home healthcare service at the time, and they would send Temples around to check on patients’ oxygen machines.
“I would read up on different techniques of breathing,” says Temples, “and I would talk to them about that. I really enjoyed working with them.”
Bob Hall, owner of the drug store and a longtime mentor to Temples, took notice. He told her, she says, “You’re really good with patients. You really should think about being a respiratory therapist.”
And after a couple detours in her life, that’s just what she did. Temples became respiratory director at the hospital in 1993.
Responding to COVID-19
For a respiratory therapist managing a hospital’s disaster response to a respiratory virus, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the stuff of nightmares.
“It can be pretty scary, no doubt,” says Temples. “I’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve never been afraid like that, but you know what you gotta do. You just take a deep breath, put on what you know, and do what you gotta do.”
Despite the best efforts of Temples and her respiratory team, some patients have succumbed to the virus.
“The most challenging part,” she says, “has been watching people pass away. That’s really, really hard. You worked so, so long and so hard, and you think you have it figured out. Then everything just goes up in the air. That’s really hard and discouraging.”
As science has learned more about the disease, Temples’ team has been able to adjust their techniques and improve their success.
And Temples has felt all the support of those around her at the hospital, and of statewide coalitions and agencies, including Georgia’s Regional Healthcare Preparedness Coalition for southwest Georgia, Region K.
“I’ve made good rapport with Region K directors and coordinators, and they respond very quickly when I ask questions,” says Temples. “The EMA here, the community EMS director, we used to have drills all the time, although we’ve been in the real deal for a year.”
But more than anyone, she turns for support to everyone else on the hospital staff.
“I certainly couldn’t do it without every one of them,” she says. “We’re a close knit hospital. I feel so close to everybody here. We’re like family, and we figure things out together. I could call on anybody here and they would help me with any situation.”
Having grown up in Early, she knows the people she’s fighting for are the people she grew up with, their parents and children, their grandchildren and cousins.
“I know everybody in the community,” she says, “so I’ve always tried to treat everybody like it’s my mom or daddy. I do love my job and I love what I do, and I think that makes a difference.”
The Importance of Family
Temples has four children and three grandchildren, and on Sundays she likes to bring the whole family together at church and, afterward, to her home for a family meal.
“We have a little white church down the road, with little shutters and a steeple,” she says. “I grew up there, so it means a lot to me.”
Her sons-in-law do the grilling for Sunday dinner, and afterward there might be a cake. Temples likes to bake and is known for her 14-layer chocolate cakes and 8-layer red velvet cakes.
The pandemic has made it harder for the family to gather, but they’ve stayed connected as well as they can. Her teenage grandson recently sent her a text message: “I hear my nana is pretty good at her job. Congratulations.”
From everyone at LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early: We couldn’t agree more.
Learn more about LifeBrite Atlanta-based LifeBrite, led by CEO Christian Fletcher. LifeBrite Hospital Group operates LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early, LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes, and Lifebrite Laboratories. To learn more about what LifeBrite Hospital Group is doing to make healthcare better, visit our homepage.