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Oswego Hospital Stages Mock Emergency

OSWEGO, NY – This time, it was only a drill. However, thanks to the experience, Oswego Hospital will be better prepared to handle real life mass causality events in the future.

Friday’s exercise was conducted outside the hospital’s new emergency department entrance on West Seventh Street.

Torie Hax, of Pulaski, is administered to as she goes through the decontamination process on a backboard after fainting (as part of the drill).
Torie Hax, of Pulaski, is administered to as she goes through the decontamination process on a backboard after fainting (as part of the drill).

It focused primarily on the hospital’s ability to effectively respond to incidents where mass numbers of chemically-contaminated patients self-report to the hospital for medical treatment.

“An actual event may involve either an intentional or non-intentional release of a chemical substance in the community that results in multiple individuals being exposed,” explained Marion Ciciarelli, public relations manager for Oswego Health.

The scenario for this year’s mock emergency involved several teenagers that were attending an indoor party. Also present were some babies and a dog among others.

At some point, a piñata game turns dangerous. When the piñata is hit, a substance is dispersed.

As a prank, someone had placed in the piñata Chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile (also known as CS or CS Gas).

Members of Oswego Hospital’s Decon Team, dressed in appropriate personnel protective suits, check the students portraying chemically-contaminated patients before processing them through a portable decontamination shelter.
Members of Oswego Hospital’s Decon Team, dressed in appropriate personnel protective suits, check the students portraying chemically-contaminated patients before processing them through a portable decontamination shelter.

The substance was dispersed among the crowd at the party. Others were contaminated as the attendees ran from the immediate scene of the occurrence.

Although no apparent physical injuries were noted, several of the teens began to experience symptoms including coughing, wheezing, stinging and tearing of the eyes, stomach nausea, vomiting, irritation (nose, throat and airways), dizziness, drowsiness, weakness and headaches.

Rather than wait for emergency services personnel to arrive at the scene, the frightened, anxious and sickened individuals decide to immediately report directly to the hospital, according to the scenario.

“It is well documented that a large percentage of victims that are involved in a chemical incident may self report to hospitals,” said Paul Vandish, Oswego Hospital’s director of quality and risk management. He is also a member of the hospital’s Decon Team.

Mara Parker, an Oswego High School senior, was one of the ‘victims.’

Mara Parker, of Oswego, exits the decontamination tent. Members of the hospital’s decon team we on hand to provide students with a dry towel and checked=

“It was very realistic. They treated everything as if this really was an actual emergency,” she said. “(according to the scenario) We were at a party and when the piñata was hit open some white powder fell out. We didn’t know what it was but all of a sudden a bunch of us started getting real dizzy, sneezing and coughing, our eyes were burning.”

“Being able to provide essential decontamination prior to their entry into the hospital is a must for continued hospital operations. Exercises like this require extensive pre-planning and coordination,” Vandish continued. “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.”

“They told us what to do; they were very assertive and said that they were going to help us. And, they were very gentle,” Parker said of the hospital staff participating in the drill.

The drill is a learning opportunity for hospital staff to examine the unique aspects of responding to potential intentional and non-intentional chemical incidents, and to make improvements to the plan as needed, he added.

On Friday, the hospital’s planned response included activating the trained Decon Team dressed with appropriate personnel protective suits, setting up the site with a portable decontamination shelter and effectively processing the ‘victims’ through the decontamination process.

Approximately five dozen members of the Oswego County BOCES New Visions class participated in the drill, acting as the ‘victims.’

Mariah Chamberlin and Megan Cordone of Central Square were two more of the ‘victims.’

“It was very realistic,” Chamberlain said.

“Very,” Cordone agreed. “Everybody treated this as if it were the real thing.”

“It was like it was real and they were right there when we needed them,” Chamberlin added.

The girls said they were best friends who thought they were going to die after being exposed to the unknown chemical.

Mariah Chamberlin, of Central Square, is washed down during the decontamination drill.
Mariah Chamberlin, of Central Square, is washed down during the decontamination drill.

They added that it was good that the hospital practices the drill, and involves the students. It’s a good learning experience that ensures people are prepared, just in case, they said.

Torie Hax, of Pulaski, fainted according to the script. She was one of the ‘victims’ that had to be assisted through the decontamination process on a backboard and transferred to an awaiting stretcher on the other side.

“They did whatever they had to do, just like in real life,” she explained. “The entire drill was handled very professionally, very realistically.”

The drill was observed and evaluated by representatives from the New York State Department of Health, the Oswego County Fire Coordinator’s Office, Oswego County Health Department, the Oswego County Emergency Management Office, and members of the Oswego City Fire Department.

As part of the exercise, the hospital’s response to the incident will be examined and the evaluators will offer comments.

An “after action” report and improvement plan with recommendations will be prepared for future training, equipment and response procedures.