Stay informed with Sentara texts

Published 10:22 pm Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Patients and visitors to Sentara Healthcare hospitals, nursing centers, therapy facilities and other ambulatory care sites can now be kept in the loop on critical situations by opting in to a new emergency notification service dubbed SentarAlert.

Subscribing is as simple as texting a keyword to 333111. Each Sentara facility or region has a unique keyword associated with it, including Suffolk’s Sentara Obici and Sentara BelleHarbour.

Opt-in subscriptions are free and last for seven-day cycles. Subscribers are notified via text when they are unsubscribed, then they can subscribe again immediately if they choose.

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SentarAlert sends texts regarding critical safety situations. The two situations under which notifications would be sent, as of now, are active shooter and evacuation scenarios, according to a press release. Each text is brief — a maximum of 120 characters — but is designed to be augmented by pages and public addresses in the facility.

“We are looking to put some other things into it, particularly significant weather events in the area like a tornado warning in the area,” Bill Brown, system manager for business continuity and emergency management, said in a phone interview. “We’re going live with these first two just to debug it based on the feedback we get.”

Previously, Sentara was able to send these messages to hospital staff, but not to patients, their visitors, non-Sentara physicians or visitors from Eastern Virginia Medical School. The new service sends the same message to all subscribers to keep everyone on the same page.

Hospital staff are briefed to follow up with visitors and patients on emergency notifications. If there was a situation in which an evacuation was under way at a Sentara facility, then subscribers could be informed of an off-site location to find their loved ones, Brown explained.

“One of the worst-case scenarios for a hospital would be an active shooter,” he said. “We wouldn’t want people coming in, so now we can put the message out to say that this is your family relocation area.”

Subscribers will receive phone numbers to call for updates during a crisis.

“We just think this is going to be a great tool that we hope to never have to use,” Brown said.