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Metro Hospitals Again Treat Explosion Like Real Deal

July 22, 2008
Metro hospitals again treat explosion drill like real deal By John C. Ensslin, Ashleigh Oldland Originally published 06:34 a.m., July 11, 2008 Updated 04:36 p.m., July 11, 2008 At 9 this morning, there was an explosion at the Pepsi Center in Denver and within minutes, dozens of sick people began showing up at emergency rooms at nine suburban hospitals. Not to worry, it was only a drill. For the second time in three months, area hospitals tested their ability to respond to a situation involving mass casualties and the need to decontaminate large numbers of patients. The two exercises are funded through a $60,000 Homeland Security grant, but they also depend greatly upon hospital staff and about 140 volunteers playing the part of patients, said Melinda Johnson, program coordinator for the Denver Metropolitan Medical Response System. "If you've had a successful exercise, then you've failed because you're looking for your weaknesses," Johnson said. Though the drill well at Exempla Lutheran, there were a few issues. "Our staff had to be decontaminated because they got contaminated," said Ann Evans, vice president chief nursing officer at Exempla Lutheran. "We needed to close down other areas of the hospital faster too." Staff and volunteer radiation victims all took showers in a brick and mortar room to decontaminate. What's most valuable are the aspects that don't go as smoothly, said Kim Kobel, a spokeswoman for Exempla Healthcare. The hospital can use this practice to adjust protocols for a real situation. Today's exercise began with an alert that went out over the emergency management system that connects all Denver Metro area hospitals. More information dribbled in until the exercise drew to a close around 10:30 a.m. Most of the public does not notice anything except for people congregating around emergency rooms and hospital staff setting up decontamination tents. When the exercise was conducted among hospitals in Denver on June 10, one hospital had to slow down the mock-exercise training when 15 very real patients showed up in the emergency room and had to be treated first, Johnson said. Patients at Exempla Lutheran were not disturbed today. "We work really hard to keep a drill a drill and not disturb other patients," Kobel said. "The patients know what's going on." Today's drill is not related to the upcoming Democratic National Convention, Johnson said. Planning for the exercises has been going on for months to help prepare for anything from a large scale traffic accident to a natural disaster. The hospitals that took part today are: Littleton Adventist, Exempla Lutheran, St. Anthony North, North Suburban Medical Center, Medical Center of Aurora, Parker Adventist, Sky Ridge Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center and the VA Hospital. The training is worth the time and effort, said Kobel. "We can see areas where we did things right and see areas where we need to improve," Kobel said. "The hospital will have a better idea of their preparedness level in the event of an emergency or a mass casualty situation." "We have emergency plans in place," she added. "But an emergency room can get very busy." The exercise can help a hospital determine if it has the right plan in place, she added. © Rocky Mountain News