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In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 and the influx of hundreds of injured patients to the area’s hospitals, it leaves those who work in the medical field to ponder the what-ifs.
“It sure does make you pause to think how we would respond and how we would want to respond,” said Nora Finch, director of organizational development, health and wellness at Wilson Medical Center as well as emergency preparedness coordinator. “We’ve talked about it since it happened.”
Finch said she and other staff members are aware of their obligation to their patients and family members as well as their challenges.
“How do we provide not only medical care, but comfort and compassion when we are suffering ourselves?” she asked.
Wilson Medical Center does its homework every year, anticipating and preparing for major emergencies that could bring a surge of patients to the emergency department.
Being prepared in the event of an emergency is a grave concern for hospitals across the country, Finch said. Hospitals must be prepared for both public violence as well as in-facility violence.
Finch said hospitals have a process in place so they can act in the case of an emergency. “We’re all the time preparing.”
Some of that preparation comes in how they react to real emergencies. For instance, when there is violence in the community that could escalate and follow victims to the emergency room, the hospital goes into lockdown in the emergency department.
Since January, there have been 31 emergency department lockdowns, Finch said.
Emergencies can come in many forms and bring a surge of patients to the emergency department, from an active shooter situation to a snowstorm or hurricane or a multi-car wreck on the interstate. In those cases, extra staff could be needed.
Finch said an emergency management committee at the hospital meets each month to talk about and plan for these types of events. They make plans, revise plans and look at what’s happened in previous situations. Wilson Medical Center is also part of the Eastern Regional Health Care Coalition, which helps coordinate resources across the region.
Between real emergencies and drills, staff at the hospital can evaluate their response and work on an action plan to improve, she said.
There are many things to consider in disaster planning at a hospital, including how to house employees on campus if they need to spend the night before a hurricane, for instance.
In advance of Hurricane Matthew last year, Finch said the hospital staff prepared for a possible surge of patients and also made sure they had necessary supplies — including linens, food, medications and water for patients, family and staff — in case there was catastrophic damage to the region.
Staff also have to think ahead on how to interact with the media and law enforcement in case there is a mass casualty event.
A key point in emergency planning is working with regional hospitals and all local resources.
Finch said she is proud of the hospital’s working relationship with local first responders. “We have an excellent relationship with them,” she said, adding they help the hospital train staff and respond with them.
Finch said the hospital staff is very dedicated and compassionate and eager to respond in emergencies.
“They know our job here is to take care of our patients, staff and community.”