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Cascade Valley Hospital tests its emergency readiness during training exercise
ARLINGTON — It was an ordinary day of care and treatment for the patients of Cascade Valley Hospital.
At the same time, the hospital was responding to a disaster whose impact had affected five counties and a dozen hospitals in the state.
No, you didn’t miss the news; Cascade Valley and the other hospitals were participating in “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” an emergency training exercise on May 18 which event organizers hope will help them develop standardized region-wide response plans for such situations.
Roughly a quarter of Cascade Valley’s 125 staff members took part in the exercise, with hospital managers filling designated command roles and medical staff who happened to be free serving in support roles, the latter including an available labor pool of nearly 50 workers.
Shortly after 8 a.m., while the rest of the hospital continued to run its everyday non-emergency operations, hospital staff involved in the exercise reviewed simulated reports of cracked walls, blocked exits, out-of-service elevators, gas leaks, broken lights, sprinklers going off and heavy medical equipment that had slipped off its foundations, due to the earthquake that was imagined as the cause of this scenario. With no outside phone lines available in this scenario, hospital staff had to rely on walkie-talkies to communicate with each other and on “ham” radio to communicate with the city of Arlington, as they used evacuation chairs and flexible stretchers to move volunteers from the third floor, who played the role of patients.
“The drill was a great training opportunity and invaluable experience because nothing went as planned, which is exactly what would happen in a true disaster,” said registered nurse and Emergency Department Director Audora Macklin.
Safety Officer Curt Leland, who soon found himself short of the number of walkie-talkies needed, was interested to observe the staff’s reactions to the various scenarios presented, which included a patient who entered the hospital carrying a simulated vial of sarin gas.
“I was impressed with how quickly we adapted to the changing scene and re-established control in the chaos,” Leland said. “We must be vigilant about disaster preparedness. We can never be too prepared.”
Tammy LeBoeuf, a registered radiology technologist, not only worked in the hospital’s decontamination shower that morning, practicing decontamination procedures on the volunteers playing the sarin patients, but also assisted at the field hospital in the continuation of the exercise at the Arlington Airport that afternoon.
“The suit is very confining, so it’s good to get used to what de-con requires,” LeBoeuf said. “We set up a portable oxygen manifold and portable ventilators for critically ill victims. Watching an entire hospital appear on the airport field was amazing.”
Assistant Administrator Jola Barnett valued the event as a rare opportunity to witness which emergency response procedures work and which ones need fine tuning, and cited communication as key to the hospital staff’s success. Registered nurse and Inpatient Nursing Director Lori Moore acknowledged the challenge of maintaining such communication, as well as of keeping the simulated disaster victims from getting contaminated by the fake sarin.
“Although I feel prepared, we want to continue practicing so we’re ready to serve our community,” Moore said.
Kelly Penny, community relations director for Cascade Valley Hospital, noted the irony of the hospital preparing for such a disaster when it had already faced a similar real-life emergency on April 28, when its staff treated 18 people who were exposed to tear gas in Darrington.
“The real thing was easier than the exercise,” Penny said. “Everything came together so smoothly that day.”
City of Arlington Emergency Management Coordinator Christine Badger praised the hospital’s efficiency, organization and coordination with the city of Arlington and other hospitals.