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Better safe than sorry at Meridian Park

An emergency drill at the area hospital last week practiced protocol for a train derailment and an influx of patients


TIMES PHOTO: CAITLIN FELDMAN - Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center staff worked with volunteers from Tualatin High School for an emergency preparedness drill last week. The high schoolers acted as injured patients, while staff decontaminated and treated them. It’s nearing 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning and large dome-shaped canopies are being set up outside the emergency department at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center. Staff flit about, checking notes on clipboards. Inside, the command center is alive with energy, and an emergency call comes in.

“We’ve experienced a local emergency — a train derailment,” Bob Ingber said over the line. “I’m thinking there’s a chance we could have to move 10 to 15 patients.”

Ingber, the facilities manager and site chairman for emergency management at Meridian Park, was calling Joe Gillespie, the emergency manager for Providence Milwaukie Hospital. He did this as part of an emergency preparedness drill on June 25 to practice the procedures that might be necessitated by a sudden influx of patients at the hospital.

Thursday’s drill was one of several that Meridian Park conducts on a yearly basis. It detailed the derailment of a railway train along the Interstate 5 corridor at 9 a.m. as it made its way through Wilsonville. With unseasonably wet and rainy weather, 10 railcars slipped off the tracks, falling into lanes of traffic on Highway 99W. In the scenario employed in the drill, several vehicle crashes occurred as a result and multiple victims with serious injuries were identified. Oil and fuel were involved, requiring both first responders and victims and to be decontaminated.TIMES PHOTO: CAITLIN FELDMAN - Bob Ingber, right, debriefs the Command Center staff during an emergency preparedness drill last week at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center. Ingber is the hospital's facilities manager and site chairman for emergency management.

“What we do is have a Hazard Vulnerability Analysis,” Ingber said. “We do that internally and externally to identify what are our biggest risks.”

A drill earlier this year practiced protocol for an active shooter situation, and in the fall, the hospital will participate in a regional earthquake drill, pulling in institutions such as police and fire departments to assist.

“Being prepared is critical not only for the community but for staff and patients,” Ingber said. “If you don’t drill and practice, then you don’t understand where you’re vulnerable and where you need help on being more prepared.”

About 125 Meridian Park staff members participated in the most recent drill, doing everything from the set-up to decontaminating “patients” to helping stage and organize. These were the primary goals of this drill — to understand the set-up of the equipment and to review protocol with decontaminating patients. That is where student volunteers from Tualatin High School came into the picture.

The students were each given fake identities and ailments that they then had to recount to the staff assisting them, each wearing personal protective equipment suits to minimize their exposure to hazardous material.

“Why are you here? What’s wrong?” McKenzie Jank, an emergency department nurse, asked Elizabeth Hillier, one of the high schoolers. “What are your ailments?”TIMES PHOTO: CAITLIN FELDMAN - McKenzie Jank, an emergency department nurse at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center, wears personal protection equipment as she assesses the ailments of her patients during an emergency preparedness drill.

“I have a wrist deformity,” Hillier said, recounting — after some prompting from her peers — the diagnosis she’d been given.

Hillier was then taken to a canopy in the “hot zone,” where only those in hazmat suits were allowed, to get showered off. Eventually, the other four students followed, and after their decontamination, those who needed it were taken to another canopy closer to the emergency entrance for treatment.

Through each aspect of the drill, staff were careful to follow protocol and their assigned roles. Ingber said that they often try to put staff in roles they might not usually tackle, to ensure that if an emergency were to strike, they’d have a wider breadth of knowledge.

“All the people we had running this drill were not people who’d been in those roles, so we exposed a whole new group of people to leadership in the process,” he said. “Getting people to feel comfortable in their roles, especially in a real disaster, can be very tense. If they’re exposed before, hopefully, they’ll feel more comfortable if a real event happens.”

And really, Ingber said, this kind of exposure is what these drills are all about. By determining some of the hospital’s weaker areas and practicing, much of the troubleshooting will be eliminated before a true emergency occurs. To stay up to date, the hospital holds meetings each month to go over updates and to review any necessary information. It might not be something the public sees, said Ingber, but it’s always underway.

“As the local community hospital, we have the command center ready to go and equipped for anytime,” he said. “It’s really fun to share this with the community because I think they don’t always realize how prepared the institutions they depend on are.”TIMES PHOTO: CAITLIN FELDMAN - Max McPherson, a Tualatin High School senior, is being decontaminated by Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center emergency department nurse Blake Weichert in the 'hot zone' during an emergency preparedness drill.

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