Nanticoke uses 'disaster' to fine tune its emergency plan

By Ronald MacArthur

A commuter plane crashed during a Seaford High soccer game around 7 p.m. on Nov. 16. Ten ambulances responded from fire departments all over the area; 37 young patients were transported to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital. Some didn't make it. The good news is none of it was actually real. Nanticoke Memorial Hospital was conducting its annual disaster drill last Wednesday. And according to the coordinator of the drill, Barbara Young, it was a learning experience for the hundreds involved. "We found out that we need to get better - and that is what this is for," she said. "We had a few disasters of our own, but ultimately we trained a lot of people." One of the disasters was an untimely rain storm that came in with a cold front just about the time the drill started. Young, who is director of safety and security at the hospital, said the drill had been in the planning stages for months. "We had nine meetings to plan the drill; I have pages and pages of notes," she said. The meetings will continue as the emergency preparedness committee meets to critique the disaster drill. The first meeting took place on Nov. 17 with members of the local fire departments. Young said that she had 50 e-mails from those taking part in the drill when she turned on her computer first thing on Thursday morning. Just about every employee of the hospital was involved in the drill, including those who were off duty. Young said that one goal of the drill was to test the hospital's new pager and emergency call down system. "When the drill started, with one phone call 250 pages went out," she said. "That was followed by the call-down trees which didn't work as effective." And every area of the hospital was put into service including the Cancer Care Center as an area to receive and treat patients with minor injuries. "There were patients all over the hospital and of course we were busy dealing with real patients and real ambulance calls," Young said.

Once the victims were triaged at the entrance of the emergency department, they were assigned to an area in the hospital and nurses and doctors (or surgeons) were assigned according to the extent of the injuries. The command center was set up in a room just off the lobby and the personnel center for manpower was set up in the cafeteria. The patients were Seaford and Woodbridge high school health internship students and volunteers who volunteered to be made up with a variety of injuries. They were placed throughout the soccer complex off Virginia Avenue as they awaited the arrival of ambulance personnel. When ambulance and emergency medical technicians arrived on the scene, they prioritized the patients according to their injuries for transport to the hospital. Ambulance crews from Seaford, Blades, Sharptown, Greenwood, Bridgeville and the surrounding area took part in the drill. It was also a test of the hospital's new emergency department. "This was the first time we tested the ED and it worked out very well," Young said. She added that the committee wanted to create a scenario with a large number of victims to "push our new ED." Every room in the emergency department was used to treat victims. Because of accreditation, the hospital is required to have two emergency management drills a year - one weather-related and one community-disaster related. She said that the hospital has had a drill similar to this one every November for the past 15 years. Young said that the hospital's emergency preparedness plan is a constant work in progress and changes are constantly being made to it. "And hopefully we never have to use it," she said. Amid the chaos within the hospital there were several observers (some who were taking notes) from other health care facilities and state, county and local governments, including Dolores Slatcher and Charles Anderson from the city of Seaford. One of the busiest people in the hospital was Anthony Policastro, MD, who was in charge of the command center. Coming from a military background, he is used to drills. "As a medical person, you never know when you are going to have your resources overwhelmed," he said. "It might be as simple as a multiple car crash with a dozen or so victims after hours. It might be as much as what happened on Sept. 11. "Whatever the situation, you need to be prepared. The way to do that is through practice, practice, practice. The participation by the entire Nanticoke Memorial Hospital employees and medical staff was commendable. Everyone took the training seriously. They all want to be ready if we have to do it for real."

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