June 2011

Learning to Respond to Mass-Casualty Disasters


As president of St. Clare Hospital, Lakewood, WA, Kathy Bressler and her leadership team make sure the hospital holds regular drills in order to be prepared to respond in a disaster situation. However, Bressler and a group of St. Clare leaders and frontline staff recently found themselves in the midst of a disaster drill unlike any they had experienced before.

At the Noble Training Facility - a former Army hospital - in Anniston, AL, colleagues from St. Clare, other Franciscan Health System facilities and CHI participated in a training course, Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents, offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The course combines classroom training with a realistic, multi-day simulation of a mass-casualty disaster. The simulation requires participants to use their skills to make critical decisions during a fast-moving situation.

"The disaster exercise was incredibly realistic," said Bressler. "Actors in make-up played their roles as victims perfectly. Patient simulators reacted to the care provided to them in realistic ways, such as coding or crying unpredictably. The power went off, there was no running water and there was a shortage of ventilators. The wonderful part was that all the trainees worked together to make good decisions. We were all stretched as far as we could possibly go, and in the process we all learned so much."

Now, CHI has an opportunity to work with FEMA to schedule a CHI-specific Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents course. "This course, which would be scheduled for January 2012, would be exclusively for CHI personnel," said Cynthia Simeone, business resilience manager for CHI. "We need to meet a minimum enrollment and have an appropriate mix of attendees from across CHI's geography and across different functions. The training is fully funded by the Department of Homeland Security, so there would be no cost to CHI, any MBO or any of the attendees."

Bressler highly recommends the training. "All hospitals run disaster drills, but usually for smaller, more contained events - such as a highway accident involving a chemical spill," she said. "We don't have as much experience with large, complex disasters, such as the recent tornado that devastated St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, MO. This training provided that kind of experience. It helped our team realize that we need to be sure of all the details in our disaster plan - for example, do we know where we will be able to get more food and water? Can we get extra staff to the hospital when transportation systems are disrupted? We are also committed to having more than one person trained to handle each role in a disaster response - at least two or three people should be trained and confident in each role."

Bressler said it's valuable for a cross-functional hospital team to attend training together, including representatives from leadership, clinical, communications, dietary, security, housekeeping, IT and facilities management.

For more information on participating in Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents training, contact Cynthia Simeone.