OSWEGO – Oswego Hospital staff members practiced for a disaster they hope will never occur. However, thanks to their training, they are now better prepared for the real thing.
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.
The exercise focuses primarily on the hospital’s ability to effectively to respond to incidents that would involve mass numbers of chemically contaminated patients self-reporting to the hospital.
The hospital’s planned response included activating the trained Decontamination Team, dressed with appropriate personnel protective suits, setting up the site with a portable decontamination shelter, and effectively processing the victims.
Staff determined and reported the disposition of each arriving patient and tracked them from arrival at the emergency department through their discharge.
The approximately 40 “victims” were portrayed by members of the CiTi New Visions class.
“This was very real. They were all very professional in the way they handled it,” Morgan Tubolino from the Mexico school district said. “We were sprayed with some sort of toxic dust and had all kinds of bad reactions; so we ran to the hospital for help.”
Coordinating the hospital’s participation in the drill was Paul Vandish, director of risk management and a member of the hospital’s Decon Team.
“Oswego Hospital understands the importance of our role in emergency preparedness as a healthcare facility,” he told Oswego County Today. “We must be prepared to respond effectively to various emergency situations that may occur in our community. By conducting these exercises, it helps to demonstrate our staff’s readiness to respond and provides us an opportunity make improvements to our plan as a result.”
Rather than wait for emergency services personnel to respond to the scene, “the frightened, anxious and sickened “victims” decided to immediately report directly to Oswego Hospital on Thursday.
“It’s well-documented that a large percentage of victims that are involved in a chemical incident may self-report to hospitals. Being able to provide essential decontamination prior to their entry inside the hospital is a must for continued hospital operations,” Vandish explained.
The drill isn’t 100 percent “real,” he said. The students came through the decon shelter in small units. In a real incident they would have been coming in a larger group. And, it would take about 20 minutes to actually set up the decon shelter.
For the drill the shelter and all the other equipment is set up first. This allows the staff to focus on how to effectively respond to the victims.
On Thursday, some came through with infants. Others fainted before they made it to the shelter and had to be carried in on back boards.
Katie Smith, of Oswego school district, was one of the “victims” who needed a stretcher.
“It was very realistic, for sure. I blacked out before I got to the stations. I had a bad reaction to the powder or dust from the accident,” she said.
This year’s fictitious event involved approximately 200 people attending the Oswego Farmers’ Market in downtown Oswego. The sun is causing difficulties for commuters driving westbound on West Bridge Street. A truck with trailer traveling west on West Bridge Street in an effort to avoid a pedestrian in the walkway swerves and looses control of the truck.
The truck skids and overturns at the southwest corner of West First and Bridge streets. The truck’s trailer splits apart. A light irritating dust from the trailer’s cargo is spread on numerous people, around 30 – 50.
Although nit injured directly by the accident, as a result of being exposed to the substance that was spread ion several individuals from the cargo, the victims are experiencing tearing, redness, pain, impaired vision, burning, soreness, and reddening of the skin.
Many are also experiencing abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and are coughing and sneezing.
The substance is identified as dry potash (potassium hydroxide – or caustic potash, is used in a wide variety of industrial applications. The major uses are in the production of potassium carbonate, potassium phosphates, liquid fertilizers and potassium soaps and detergents.
The largest single use is in the production of potassium carbonate, which is used primarily in the manufacture of specialty glasses, including television tubes.
Other applications of potassium carbonate include foods, soaps, dyes and pigments, boiler compounds, electroplating baths, extraction of carbon dioxide from industrial gas streams, dehydrating agents, titanium enamels, vat dyeing and textile printing, fire extinguishing powders and use as a chemical intermediate for the production of several potassium chemicals including potassium acetate, bicarbonate, bisulfate, ferrocyaniade, fluoride, silicate and others.
An actual event may involve either an intentional or non-intentional release of a chemical substance in our community that results in multiple individuals being exposed, Vandish said.
The drill was observed and is being evaluated by representatives from the Oswego County Emergency Management Office, Oswego County Fire Coordinator’s Office and the Oswego City Fire Department.
“We’re documenting the good aspects. And keeping an eye out for possible ways to improve,” said Dale Currier, director of the county’s Emergency Management Office.
Robert Loomis, of the County Fire Coordinator’s Office, agreed.
“They are handling themselves very well. Everyone is treating this just as they would if it were a real emergency,” he said. “There are some new members and the training ensures everyone is on the same page.”
Exercises such as this require extensive pre-planning and coordination.
“The time spent up front with plan design and actual testing of our plan make us that much more efficient and effective should a real event occur requiring our response,” Vandish said. “It’s a learning opportunity for hospital staff to examine the unique aspects of responding to potential intentional or non-intentional chemical incidents. We’ll make improvements to our plan as needed.”
Following the hour-long drill, a critique session was held to review its effectiveness and to discuss possible improvements. An ‘After Action Report and Improvement Plan’ with recommendations will be prepared for future training, equipment and response procedures.