A snowy Christmas Eve in Columbus turned into an urgent situation that saw quick action, compassion, sacrifice, and neighbors helping neighbors.
Listen to the full story on The Open Door Podcast, or read our blog below!
The Christmas Eve Calamity
Bob Dylan once said, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Well, on Christmas Eve 2022, no one needed a weatherman to know it was a good day to stay inside. Temperatures were below 0, winds at 20 miles per hour, and snow was falling quickly.
Bangaly Sylla is one of our DSPs who happened to be working at Park West that night. Sitting on the coach, all of a sudden, he heard a noise. A noise that wasn’t normal. He asked around to other staff working there; they didn’t hear anything. But he wanted to investigate. He checked the kitchen, nothing. The bathroom, nothing. Maybe he was just hearing things.
Then he checked Bert’s bedroom, and that’s when he saw the problem. He quickly made some calls to get support, and soon word reached Becky Sharp, Open Door’s Executive Director.
“It’s about nine o’clock on Christmas Eve and just like other families I was at home getting prepared, wrapping presents and cooking for a family event for the next day. Looking forward to seeing my first grandson’s Christmas.”
The phone rang–it was the Incident Hotline. The sprinkler system was going out in one of the apartments. Maintenance had arrived, but water was flowing all over the floor.
“Ok, I’ll be in,” Becky said.
Maintenance workers were in a similar position that evening; some hadn’t even wrapped their kids’ presents yet for the next day.
Becky could barely get off of her street because of the snow and ice. As she was driving—slowly—down the road, she received another call.
There was a bigger problem. One of the ceilings had fallen through in the apartment.
Becky’s first question was: Is everybody ok? The response was, yes, the guys weren’t in the area where the leak was happening – they were in the living room watching TV. But it was still a jarring situation for Bangaly.
“The guys were very good. No incidents, nothing,” Bangaly said.
But as for himself? “I was very, very afraid. I never saw something like that in my life.”
Tony Njunge is the Operations Director, and he was preparing for his family’s holiday celebration when he heard about what was happening at Park West.
I got the call that the sprinkler burst. At first, I didn’t think it was a big deal. I thought it would be an easy fix. Then, when Matt got here, he realized just how bad the damage was. The ceilings had caved in, and the pipes had busted.”
(View the slideshow of the damage below)
“As soon as I opened the door, water was on top of me,” said Maintenance Supervisor Matt Delay. “It was freezing so it took me about 30 minutes to bust the ice to get the front door open because it was leaking through the porch.”
In the meantime, we had two other apartments that were affected, which is a total of 24 individuals. Becky knew that action needed to be taken as soon as possible.
Becky worked on executing the emergency preparedness plan and decided that the apartment where the ceiling had fallen would be evacuated and transfer affected individuals to the Career, Activity, & Community (CAC) building where folks normally receive day services.
They packed up the individuals’ belongings and began bringing it across from Park West to CAC for temporary housing.
No one had shoveled the office parking lot; that hadn’t been a priority ahead of a holiday weekend.
“They had shopping carts…we had to push through snow to get to the vehicles and then load the vehicles,” Tony said.
Kim Eilerman is the Program Director for Park West, and was also involved in the happenings that night, including the move of individuals and their belongings.
“Carrol Owens and Christina Transou helped with that process and delivered all the Christmas presents out to the apartments.” Kim said. “Mike and Shane, from our maintenance department, came in to help get beds set up and clean up.”
So, how would all the individuals handle such a chaotic scene: the cold, the water everywhere, the staff running around? As it turns out, they took it in stride.
“They continued on as if nothing had happened,” Becky said. “Their staff kept them safe and secure and minimized the situation for them in a way that the individuals didn’t understand what had gone on at that point. While we were in chaos, they were concerned about simpler matters like where they could get a pop. If it were me, I would have been a lot more in ‘crisis mode’ then they seemed to be.”
We were able to bring their clothes over, as well as personal items. But many things were destroyed due to the damage, including furniture, appliances, light fixtures, bathrooms, and beds.
From there, maintenance, Becky, Tony, Kim, and other staff members went back to the apartment to talk. The guys were safe, which was of course the most important, immediate need. But now they had to consider the long-term solution.
Our day services program was due to be open, so the guys couldn’t continue staying there. Their families were called, but none of them were able to get in because of the weather or because they were unable to care for them at home.
Essentially, we realized: we can’t do it all by ourselves.
We contacted contractors, our insurance company, county representative fire department, emergency management. No one answered the phone that night. In fact, even our 24-hour insurance line, no one returned her call and Becky was on hold for over three hours.
One person at the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Lynne Johansson, emailed Becky the day after Christmas to thank her for keeping people safe and ask if we needed anything.
It was a tough long-term question that needed to be answered. We needed had to have something happen that would open up eight beds so the guys could be safe, with window and door alarms, so their safety plan could be enacted as well. Those homes just don’t usually exist.
“I received the email that talked about the water leak and relocation of the residents,” Lynne said. She immediately contacted Creative Housing and they responded the next morning saying they might have a solution. They just so happened to have an 8-bed facility that had been sitting empty. In fact, it was already set up for 8 individuals, had window and door alarms, and its location on Derrer Road was just a few minutes’ drive from Park West.
(Check out a few photos of the Derrer Road home below)
“We just so happened to have a place recently vacated that could accommodate all of them quickly,” said Critty Buenconsejo, CEO of Creative Housing. “Already having a good relationship with Open Door, it was a privilege to welcome the folks they serve to our home.”
Creative Housing jumped through hoops to not only open up the house for us, but getting the fire system reinstated, did multiple repairs, had the rooms thoroughly cleaned.
Two days later, the guys were able to move in.
We secured a three-month lease at the Derrer Road home as a temporary solution until repairs can be performed at Park West. The home fits exactly what we needed for the guys.
“Without the partnership Lynne answering on her holiday, without Eric and Critty at Creative Housing Rich at Fire Systems Professional assisting our team, I really don’t know what we would’ve done,” Becky said.
It took everyone to make the most of this crazy situation. The quick actions of internal folks like the DSPs, maintenance staff, and leadership planning helped care for and transport people from point A to point B safely and plan for the short-term and long-term solution for the people we support. It’s really a testament to our staff—there’s no telling what would have happened without their decisive actions that night.
“The DSPs adapted really quickly to what was happening,” Tony said. “The individuals’ lives were interrupted, but their Christmas was not messed up due to the dedication of the staff and I don’t take that for granted.”
Our DSPs helped on that crazy night when it seemed no one else was coming to help us. Bangaly and another DSP, Malik, offered to stay after their shifts ended to assist with the emergency.
Additionally, the nurses had a big role. They brought the medical supplies to CAC and got them set up at Derrer Road. Pascaline and the night nurses were essential in assisting with medical needs each day. In addition, our maintenance staff were there all night on Christmas Eve and sacrificed time with their families to help.
While challenges will always remain in our field, we can take pride in the fact that we work with people who strive to inspire life journeys every day. We couldn’t have had a successful outcome without internal and external folks working hard to both figuratively – and literally – open doors for the individuals we support.
Kim summed it up best: “We all worked together as a team. This situation proved that all the training and systems that we implement can and will save lives.”