PONTIAC — Teri Arteman, who lives five miles north of Fairbury, has stayed overnight at OSF HealthCare Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center or with a friend in Pontiac "many times," including earlier this week.

Hannah Denney, who lives in Bloomington, has slept on an air mattress at Heritage Health in El Paso or stayed overnight with nearby family, including 10 times in the past month.

Arteman and Denney are registered nurses and among Central Illinois medical professionals who worked in spite of the blizzards and icy conditions in mid- to late-January and the Arctic-like temperatures earlier this week.

"When you go into health care, there is no such thing as a snow day," said Toni Bishop-McWain, chief nursing officer at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington.

"We're a business that never closes," said Benjamin Hart, CEO of Bloomington-based Heritage Operations Group, which owns or operates 54 long-term care or senior care facilities in Illinois.

"All of this is due to the dedication of the caregivers," Hart said. "These are people whose careers, whose lives, are based upon taking care of others."

"When you go into health care, it's a calling," Bishop-McWain said. "We have a great group of people. They don't want to let their other mission partners (fellow employees) down. They want to provide care for the patients who truly need us."

But accommodations need to be made.

For example, St. Joseph instituted an inclement weather policy on Wednesday allowing some employees who don't provide direct patient care to work from home. But most people who qualified came to work anyway, Bishop-McWain said.

In addition, during the two blizzard weekends in January, St. Joseph put up, at a nearby hotel, care providers who lived out of town and needed to report to work the next day. About 40 employees did so, Bishop-McWain said.

"Being prepared for extreme circumstances is the nature of our business," said Anna Laible, administrator of Advocate Eureka Hospital in Eureka. "We've had staff members spend the night at the hospital to make sure we had appropriate coverage when heavy snow or extreme cold was predicted."

"We do have sleeping rooms available for staff who live further away or may have a specific skill set that we want to ensure is available," said Lori Harper, director of nursing practice at Advocate Medical Center in Normal. "Everyone on our team comes together in these types of situations to support one another."

Arteman, 61, an obstetrics nurse for 34 years at Saint James, has coveralls, boots, a blanket and hat in her vehicle. But when the weather is bad, she packs an overnight bag and stays overnight at the hospital or at a friend's house in Pontiac; she did that earlier this week so she wouldn't miss work the next day.

"It's my shift to cover," she said. "I'm supposed to work. We're a small unit. If I call in, it's a hardship on someone else."

Denney, 25, who has worked at Heritage Health for 6½ years, packs an overnight bag and said she's fortunate to have family in El Paso.

Why doesn't she go home?

"Because I'm chicken," she said with a laugh. She'd rather not spend the night in her own bed "than be in a ditch between Bloomington and here."

"I love this place," Denney said. "You build relationship with the people who live here and the staff.

"Sometimes I think, 'I don't want to get out in the cold and snow.' But then someone else would need to be out in the snow to take care of the people who live here. The residents and the staff here make it easier for me to get to work."

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Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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