OSWEGO, NY â€“ 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.
Fridayâ€™s exercise was conducted outside the hospitalâ€™s new emergency department entrance on West Seventh Street.
It focused primarily on the hospitalâ€™s ability to effectively respond to incidents where mass numbers of chemically-contaminated patients self-report to the hospital for medical treatment.
â€œAn 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,â€ explained Marion Ciciarelli, public relations manager for Oswego Health.
The scenario for this yearâ€™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 piÃ±ata game turns dangerous. When the piÃ±ata is hit, a substance is dispersed.
As a prank, someone had placed in the piÃ±ata Chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile (also known as CS or CS Gas).
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.
â€œIt is well documented that a large percentage of victims that are involved in a chemical incident may self report to hospitals,â€ said Paul Vandish, Oswego Hospitalâ€™s director of quality and risk management. He is also a member of the hospitalâ€™s Decon Team.
Mara Parker, an Oswego High School senior, was one of the â€˜victims.â€™
â€œIt was very realistic. They treated everything as if this really was an actual emergency,â€ she said. â€œ(according to the scenario) We were at a party and when the piÃ±ata was hit open some white powder fell out. We didnâ€™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.â€
â€œBeing 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,â€ Vandish continued. â€œThe 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.â€
â€œThey told us what to do; they were very assertive and said that they were going to help us. And, they were very gentle,â€ 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 hospitalâ€™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 â€˜victimsâ€™ through the decontamination process.
Approximately five dozen members of the Oswego County BOCES New Visions class participated in the drill, acting as the â€˜victims.â€™
Mariah Chamberlin and Megan Cordone of Central Square were two more of the â€˜victims.â€™
â€œIt was very realistic,â€ Chamberlain said.
â€œVery,â€ Cordone agreed. â€œEverybody treated this as if it were the real thing.â€
â€œIt was like it was real and they were right there when we needed them,â€ Chamberlin added.
The girls said they were best friends who thought they were going to die after being exposed to the unknown chemical.
They added that it was good that the hospital practices the drill, and involves the students. Itâ€™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 â€˜victimsâ€™ that had to be assisted through the decontamination process on a backboard and transferred to an awaiting stretcher on the other side.
â€œThey did whatever they had to do, just like in real life,â€ she explained. â€œThe entire drill was handled very professionally, very realistically.â€
The drill was observed and evaluated by representatives from the New York State Department of Health, the Oswego County Fire Coordinatorâ€™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 hospitalâ€™s response to the incident will be examined and the evaluators will offer comments.
An â€œafter actionâ€ report and improvement plan with recommendations will be prepared for future training, equipment and response procedures.