OSWEGO, NY – Oswego Hospital staff members practiced for a disaster they hope will never occur.
More than three dozen Oswego Hospital employees wore protective suits as they hosed down “victims” exposed to a hazardous substance in a special tent who were then triaged outside the hospital’s emergency entrance on Thursday.
It was all a part of the healthcare facility’s annual decontamination drill.
Coordinating the drill was Paul Vandish, Oswego Health Director of Quality and Risk Management.
The drill’s fictitious scenario involved a truck that overturns during a busy Oswego Farmers’ Market, which is carrying dry potash, or potassium hydroxide. A light irritating dust from the truck’s cargo is spread over about 30 – 50 people at the market.
Although not injured directly from the accident, as a result of being exposed to the material, several individuals experience tearing, pain, impaired vision, nausea and breathing difficulties.
It is a known fact that when incidents like this occur, many of the injured often self-report to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Under the drill, rather than wait for emergency services personnel to respond to the scene, the frightened, anxious and sickened individuals decide to immediately report directly to Oswego Hospital.
Playing the role of the victims were about 50 students from Oswego County CiTi (BOCES) New Vision program. Each of the students had a specific role to play, testing the hospital staff’s response and readiness.
Participating in the drill were more than 40 staff members from numerous hospital departments.
Each of the victims arrived at the hospital’s emergency department on their own as part of the drill.
When the injured arrived, the hospital activated its command center, establishing a disaster triage site, as well as assessment/treatment areas by triage category.
Staff determined and reported the disposition of each arriving patient and tracked them from arrival at the emergency department through their discharge.
“We’re going to be on site (at the incident), we’re going to be the first responder,” explained OFD Deputy Chief Dave Engle. “We’ll set up our own decon system right on site so that our patients are decontaminated before they get in the ambulances.”
Because of the large number of people who would likely be at a farmers’ market, he added that they would be in communication with Oswego as well as other area hospitals.
“They obviously can’t all come here. So there is going to have to be some coordination between here and Syracuse hospitals as to how severe the injuries, how many categories of victims do I have and things like that,” he said.
Shelby Drake of Bodley High School in Fulton was one of the “victims.”
“It was very realistic, I didn’t expect for it to be that intense. Everyone did things very efficiently. They got (the victims) through quickly and made sure we were all cleaned off,” he said. “They took it very seriously. They made sure we did everything as we should.”
“They treated everything as if it were the real thing. It was very realistic,” said Alexandria Courtwright of Mexico High School. “It’s a good training exercise for everyone involved.
The exercise focused primarily on the hospital’s ability to effectively respond to incidents that would involve mass numbers of chemically contaminated patients self-reporting to the hospital, Vandish explained.
An actual event may involve either an intentional or non-intentional release of a chemical substance into the community that results in multiple individuals being exposed.
“There are a lot of businesses and industries that use a host of chemicals,” Vandish said. “The contamination could be unintentional or intentional. We have to train for all types of emergencies. We have to be well-trained, because you never know when something might happen.”
The the drill was being observed and evaluated by members of the Oswego City Fire Department and the Oswego County Fire Coordinator’s office.
“It looks like our objectives for this drill were met,” Vandish said. “The staff demonstrated that they are trained, prepared and able to respond to this type of scenario if one were to occur in our community. We always have to make sure that we are continually up to speed on the procedure. Every year, we have some new people that come on board. And, we have many new people this year so we want to make sure that they are properly trained in the event that something like this happens for real.”
They can handle around 100 victims per hour.
Being able to provide essential decontamination prior to the “victims” entry into the hospital is a must for continued hospital operations, Vandish said.
“This drill is a learning opportunity for hospital staff to examine the unique aspects of responding to a potential intentional or non-intentional chemical incident, and to make improvements to our plan as needed. These drill exercises require extensive pre-planning and coordination, however, the time spent upfront and actual testing help ensure that staff will be efficient and effective should a real event occur,” Vandish continued. “We have to be prepared all the time. These drills offer a learning opportunity for hospital staff as they practice the unique aspects of responding to potential intentional and non-intentional incidents.”
An after-action report and improvement plan with recommendations will be prepared for use at future training exercises.