Health care officials prepare, practice for major disasters

Chad Masters, left, emergency response planner for Hancock Public Health, and Hanco EMS Chief Rob Martin are among the local officials who have developed emergency response plans for a large-scale tragedy, such as the recent Las Vegas shooting. For instance, Martin said Hanco has agreements to assist, or be assisted by, paramedics in all surrounding counties. (Photo by Randy Roberts / The Courier)

By SARA ARTHURS
STAFF WRITER

The Las Vegas shooting left more than 500 injured. What if something like that were to happen in Findlay? Are health care workers prepared?

“You don’t know when that’s going to happen and I hope to God it never happens here,” said Hanco EMS Chief Rob Martin, but there is a plan in place if it does.

Ryan Shoemaker is director of facility and support services for Blanchard Valley Health System and oversees emergency preparedness at both Blanchard Valley Hospital and Bluffton Hospital.

He said there is an emergency operations plan covering a variety of scenarios, from the effects of flooding to needing to evacuate part of a hospital if it was damaged by a fire.

One scenario within that plan is a surge of patients who might all come to the hospital at once.

Shoemaker said Blanchard Valley Health System is a member of the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio. Staff from this 32-hospital organization meet monthly and have plans and partnerships in place, including identifying who they would ask for help, and where patients would go.

Shoemaker said if there was a surge of patients at Findlay, some might be sent to hospitals in Lima, Toledo, Fostoria and Tiffin.

Hanco EMS captain paramedic Craig Spieker said Hanco also has a memorandum of understanding with all surrounding communities. If a large-scale emergency happens in Fostoria or North Baltimore, Findlay paramedics might be called out, and vice versa.

Hanco’s Martin said they’re in contact with every adjacent county: “We have them on speed dial.”
Chad Masters, epidemiologist and emergency response planner for Hancock Public Health, said Findlay is a large enough community to have a lot of resources, including the hospital and many health-related programs at the University of Findlay, but still small enough that medical professionals, law enforcement and others can easily get to know each other.

“The good thing is that we’re all at the same table,” Masters said.

Shoemaker said that unfortunately, it’s a reality today that medical personnel need to plan for large-scale tragedies, and it’s partly because of the rise in mass shootings that the hospital council group has been meeting.

At their next meeting, “I guarantee that this will come up,” he said of the Las Vegas shootings.

They’ll look at how hospital staff in Las Vegas handled the situation, what went well and what didn’t, and what they can put into practice here because of what was learned there.

And, at the next drill, they might do things differently.

A coalition of several agencies, including law enforcement and schools, met several years ago to put together a Hancock County active shooter plan, designed if something tragic were to happen at a school. It specifies where people would meet with their families and where Hanco would stage operations. The coalition met over the course of 18 months.

“Everyone sat down and said, ‘Yes. We need a comprehensive plan,'” Martin said.

Hanco and law enforcement have trained so each knows the other’s role.

They did tactical training inside a wing of the hospital that is out of commission, a simulation with rubber bullets and “fake bad guys,” Martin said.

They also did this inside a school and at the Hancock County Fairgrounds, which differs from a building with many rooms close to each other.

Hanco also routinely does reviews before a large community event, such as the Komen Race for the Cure or BalloonFest.

Blanchard Valley Hospital is a Level III trauma center, which means it has “demonstrated an ability to provide prompt assessment, resuscitation, surgery, intensive care and stabilization of injured patients and emergency operations,” according to the American Trauma Society’s website.

The hospital also has “24-hour immediate coverage by emergency medicine physicians and the prompt availability of general surgeons and anesthesiologists.”

Shoemaker said disaster plans include making sure the hospital is prepared to receive patients and to do triaging, much of which is done at the scene of an event.

The goal in triage is to spend less than 30 seconds with each individual, correcting anything life-threatening that can be corrected immediately, like a hemorrhage or airway problem. Once patients are triaged, they’re taken for further treatment or transported.

The community formed a mass fatality committee in 2009.

Masters said Dr. Mark Fox, the Hancock County coroner, has a system to coordinate with funeral directors if there are many deaths in the area and some bodies must be transported out of the county. Few want to talk about this, but “I’d rather talk about it now” before it’s needed, Masters said.

The mental health of medical personnel is also discussed as part of planning for emergencies.

Shoemaker said they utilize incident command — a structure similar to what police, fire and other agencies use, with specific titles so someone from one agency knows another’s role at the scene.

There’s a whole section that deals with mental health, “not only during, but after” an event, Shoemaker said.

Even smaller-scale emergencies can have effects. Spieker said ambulance crews routinely decompress after a run.

Precia Stuby, executive director of the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, said mental health professionals use what’s called Critical Incident Stress Management, an orchestrated process of being able to deploy counseling services to those who need them. The goal is to engage, listen and make referrals for services.

There would also be a desire to include the faith-based community in these efforts, Stuby said.

“Always the first step is to listen” and “let someone tell their story,” she said. Some people “just need to let it out, what happened. Other people need more than that.”

Masters encouraged the public to follow the often-heard advice: If you see something, say something. If something looks out of place — say, a backpack that is just sitting there — “tell somebody.”

And, if you see lights and sirens, “move to the right,” Martin said. By law, the ambulance must pass on the left, but often motorists freeze and don’t move over, or try to get out of the way by getting to the left, he said.

“Minutes matter when we respond,” he said.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
Twitter: @swarthurs



Comments

comments

About the Author