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Disaster practice: ‘Chemical spill’ drill successful at LRMC

April 9, 2014
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Lehigh Regional Medical Center's president and CEO Joanie Jeannette was also the "incident commander" when a surprise drill was called out over the public address system of the hospital a few minutes after 9 a.m. on April 3.

She and several doctors took part in the drill and another 100 or more employees were involved in the mock drill that jumped into action to take care of patients who, according to the scenario, had been exposed to a chemical spill that had taken place on a farm about 10 miles away from Lehigh, near Immokalee.

According to Diann Cimrig, the hospital's public relations manager, the scenario noted that two drums of chemicals had spilled, exposing the workers.

Article Photos

A LRMC worker brings a “patient” into decontamination tent.

One contained hydrochloric and ammonia and the other contained methyl parathion, one of the most toxic pesticides that exists.

As the drill began, LRMC workers erected a "decon tent," where "patients" were decontaminated with heavy splashes of water. The tent was the second place to make sure the patients were decontaminated.

The first was in front of the tent and near the Emergency Room on the LRMC campus. Heavy water pressured spouts were used by LRMC employees, dressed in gear to prevent themselves from being contaminated by the dangerous chemicals.

The "patients" were plastic dummies, not real people acting as patients as in other drills sometimes performed by hospitals.

Jim Allard, director of planning operations and emergency coordinator for the surprise drill, used a hand-held communication device that kept him in contact with all involved. It was he who announced that the chemical spill had taken place and the hospital was put into an emergency mode to accept patients.

Allard said the drill scenario was driven by consulting information from Burgess and Associates of Clermont, Fla., which he said had representatives there watching the drill and taking notes on how it went.

"We've got two being brought to the hospital by EMS," Allard shouted through his hand-held device that could be heard by all involved.

Several employees of the hospital while in their decon gear were the first reactors at the hospital to take the "dummy patients" and use high water pressure to do away with any chemicals on the patient's body and clothing.

While decontaminating some of the so-called patients outside the tent, a rainbow appeared through the spray.

Once that first act of removal of dangerous chemical occurred, the "patients" were taken into a tent where more decontamination efforts took place, including the removal of clothing from the patient and other apparel put on the patient.

It was determined at that time if the patient could be walked into the ER or taken in by wheelchair or a stretcher.

Within a few minutes, those in the drill were told another 10 "victims" of the chemical spill had driven themselves to the hospital in different vehicles.

As the drill continued, these patients which were plastic dummies, were taken through the same process.

If such a chemical spill had taken place for real, Allard said the patients had been property decontaminated before entrance into the ER where doctors and others decided what course of medical action the patient may need because of the chemical spill.

Jason Thompson, the hospital's patient access manager, said such a drill is required once a year.

These types of exercises are required to be conducted annually by the State of Florida, and the Joint Commission, to ensure hospital disaster preparedness," Public Relations Manager Cimrig said.

Thompson noted that even if the patients had gone through a decontamination effort at the Immokalee area farm as in the scenario, they must be decontaminated again before they can be admitted to the ER for additional treatment.

The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District and the Lee County Sheriff's Office had been invited to be at the drill site at the rear of the hospital, close to the Emergency Room.

While the drill was taking place, the actual Emergency Room was not in any way closed nor blocked and during the drill, at least one ambulance had rushed to the ER with a patient.

While a "lock down" was issued, in actuality it didn't take place because it was a drill, but officials said had the incident been real, the hospital would have been locked down due to the hazard chemical issue.

While up to maybe 12 so-called patients were put through the decontamination process, the scenario called for some patients being caught in an elevator inside the hospital.

Officials said in the drill scenario, the patients were able to get out of the elevator thanks to a local hospital employee, but unfortunately a contractor who had been called it, was crushed by the elevator.

In this drill, the man who was crushed was the only fatality, although that act was not simulated.

Hospital CEO Joanie Jeannette said the entire process was successfully completed with all departments exhibiting excellent responsiveness, and required action, under the leadership of the incident commander, herself and the hospital's Incident Management Team.

The drill lasted a little more than an hour, but had it been a real event, officials said the "decon tent" would have remained up for some time in case there had been more people who had been exposed to the mock chemical spill.



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