By Karen Gorby
Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer, Angel Medical Center
As part of our efforts in ensuring that Angel Medical Center (AMC) is a safe place for patients, families, and our caregivers, we regularly participate in planned disaster preparedness activities, including a recent active assailant drill. Though these are things we don’t like to think about, they are realities in today’s world and we take our responsibilities to make our facilities is as safe as possible for our patients and staff very seriously.
Bobbi Jo Jenkins is AMC’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, and she ensures that we prepare for unforeseen emergencies, which could include an active assailant scenario, a surge in patients due to a car accident, or even a workplace disaster such as a patient coming into contact with a harmful chemical. She has received special training in emergency management at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Center for Domestic Preparedness in Alabama, and is now a certified instructor for FEMA in Hazardous Materials Decontamination.
In order to follow the FEMA National Disaster Response Plan protocol properly, we also create an incident command center for each event. This is really where each event starts – with standardized national government direction – and where our partnerships beginning with all the participating city and county organizations.
“In order to make sure that everyone at AMC can properly respond to any type of emergency, communication across the facility and with our community partners – law enforcement, EMS services, and other players is key,” says Jenkins. She explains that there are several exercises that the hospital plans and executes to ensure smooth management of emergency situations.
On October 30th, the hospital rehearsed an active assailant drill. “Before we do the actual live drill, which involves every hospital employee, Macon County Emergency Medical Services, Fire Department, and Sherriff’s Office, and the Franklin Police Department, we do a “tabletop drill,” which is more like a group planning session before the actual drill,” Jenkins explains.
On the day of the live drill, all stakeholders are as prepared as they can be. The drill itself took about 10 minutes, and moving injured patients to the Emergency Department took about 20 minutes. Jenkins notes that everyone involved must be on the same page, know to stay calm, and convey to patients and visitors what they need to do. “Signs alerting patients and visitors that an emergency drill will take place, as well as posters at every entrance, prevent people from being alarmed,” adds Jenkins.
Jenkins shares that after this, the last step of the drill is a “hotwash,” where the entire team goes over the drill and dissect it, bit by bit. “We assess each player’s reaction, and there are always important things we learn to make the next drill even better executed,” says Jenkins. She adds that every individual is bound to react differently to a situation, but that with proper training, everyone knows what to do and how to react in the safest way.
Jenkins outlines other emergencies that AMC staff are prepared to deal with also. “Late last year we did a drill where two people got into an altercation at a nearby gas station and one was sprayed with gasoline. Upon arrival to the hospital, we had to decontaminate the patient outside, because gasoline fumes in the hospital would definitely pose danger,” declares Jenkins.
A chemical spill could happen at a workplace, as well as any number of other emergencies that could cause a patient surge and be classified as a mass casualty. “We have to be ready for anything at a moment’s notice,” says Jenkins, clearly aware that Emergency Department personnel typically have about two minutes’ notice before they must deal with an emergency like one of these. It’s in times like these that tolls such as plain language codes, or announcements that go over the hospital-wide audio system must be understandable to every team member at AMC.
Jenkins gives much credit to all the city and county participants who come together to participate with AMC. “They put great thought into our community’s needs and do a fabulous job of coming together and focusing on meeting those needs.”
If there’s one takeaway for the public to be mindful of, says Jenkins, “it’s understanding that it’s always better to report anything suspicious than not to report it. It’s better to learn that a concern is unfounded but checked out, than real and unaddressed.”
AMC does at least one active assailant drill per year and it’s our patients’ and visitors’ safety that motivates each one. Though we hope never to have to use the skills that these drills have us practice, it’s critical that we know them, to preserve our community’s safety and faith in AMC as a place that provides the best, most proactive medical care.
Karen S. Gorby, RN, MSN, MBA, CENP, FACHE, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Angel Medical Center. Gorby is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). For nearly three decades, she has served hospitals and health systems in Ohio before assuming her role at Angel Medical Center. Gorby received her MSN from Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, and her MBA from Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio.