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Preparing for the worst

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On March 2nd, Willamette Valley Medical Center had a full training and drill of what they would do should a biochemical emergency strike. Preparation is the key to success and Willamette Valley Medical Center is expertly trained. The News Register covered the drill…read on for the full story.

Preparing for the worst

-Tom Henderson/News-Register- March 2, 2016

He lay there, stiff as a board, as personnel dressed like beekeepers from outer space pushed him along a conveyor belt and scrubbed him down. It was like a car wash for humans. It only lacked the hot wax and whirling brushes. Amid the intense activity, many people were laughing and joking.

The only one not enjoying himself was the patient. That’s because he was more than a bit of a dummy. He was a plastic figure used for practice as hospital staff prepared for a genuine disaster.

“Ever since 9/11, we have been more wary of terrorism threats,” said Jenny Root, the hospital’s emergency preparedness manager. “This is to make sure we’re ready, regardless of what happens.”

So how would personnel respond if a terrorist sleeper cell decided to take out Yamhill County? “It really all depends on whether I’m home or at work,” said emergency unit secretary Sandy Nippert.

She was joking. Nippert comes from a military family. If the forces of evil attack her town, she won’t sit it out and watch events unfold on television.

“I suppose if terrorists attacked, I would come to work anyway,” said Nippert, who has worked for the hospital for the past 10 years. “They’d need all the help they could get to care for people.”

McMinnville may not be high on ISIS’ hit list, but assistant nurse manager Zach Woodruff said that’s not the point of last week’s training exercise.

“It wouldn’t have to be terrorism,” he said. “There are a lot of chemicals used in agriculture around here. A crisis wouldn’t have to be anything malicious, but we still want to be prepared. Look at that explosion in a Texas chemical plant last month. We want to be ready if something like that happens.”

Root said it’s important to be prepared for any emergency. “It could be anything from chemical warfare to an accident with pesticides,” she said. “You don’t want to expose the hospital to additional contamination.”

Hospital officials hired Team Decon, a Salem-based training company, to conduct the drills. The team is led by Michael Heffner of the Salem Fire Department, a paramedic who specializes in victim decontamination and emergency medical treatment.

Heffner said the training exercises fulfilled the requirements enforced by the state Occupational and Health Safety Administration. OSHA requires that hospital first responders and other emergency medical personnel meet standards for what is known as HAZWOPER — Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response.

That means personnel must be able to triage and decontaminate victims, recognize and identify hazardous substances, implement a response plan and establish a decontamination corridor, and protect themselves by selecting proper protective equipment.

“We do these trainings throughout Oregon,” Heffner said. “We’ll be doing another training in McMinnville June 8. That will be a massive training with the school district to simulate emergency responses during a major earthquake.”

Every level of hospital staff in every department took part in last week’s program, not just direct medical providers. Heffner said he tried to pair up medical and support staff. In an emergency, he said, everyone may have to pitch in.

“If there was a dangerous chemical, first, we would find out where it came from,” said Monica Figueroa, the head of housekeeping at the hospital. “Then we would find the group best able to respond to the threat. Then we would suit up if necessary.”

As a member of the logistics team, she said, “My job would be to make sure people have clean linens and go and get other supplies.”

Heffner spent about half the day in the hospital’s classroom. The rest was spent outside where personnel donned special suits and trained for a variety of scenarios. A decontamination tent was set up for the scrubbing of plastic dummies. Some required a bit more sensitivity.

A child-sized dummy was used to teach personnel how to deal with children.

“Kiddos require special handling,” Heffner said. “They must be washed by same-sex personnel. They also may be scared by this whole decon experience. These outfits can look pretty scary.”

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