A group of Mountain States Health Alliance employees are more prepared than ever for a major emergency following a week of intensive crisis training through the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Center for Domestic Preparedness.
“It was a really valuable week of training,” said Billy Teilhet, MSHA’s corporate director of biomedical engineering. The training was paid for through a federal grant, according to a press release from MSHA.
“We had several days of classroom training and then three days of actual emergency management exercises utilizing a real hospital and incident command center.
“Homeland Security makes the training as realistic as you can get so you’re much better prepared for a real disaster incident. We got to learn to work with outside agencies and federal partners like you would be expected to in a real situation.”
Other health systems also sent employees to the training — made available by the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department — including Wellmont and several from Knoxville and Blount County. MSHA sent 20 people to the training which coached them on how to prepare for a major emergency as well as how to react in that situation. The test case used in the training was a train derailment that resulted in contamination and mass casualties.
“MSHA is very serious about emergency management. If something really happens, we want to be ready to take care of people,” Teilhet said.
The team worked from the Noble Training Facility, a former Army hospital, in Anniston, Ala. It is the only hospital facility in the country dedicated to training hospital and health care professionals in disaster preparedness and response. It includes various offices, classrooms, simulation areas and labs, plus two prototype mass casualty decontamination training lanes, MSHA said.
MSHA’s Jamie Swift, corporate director for infection prevention, was on the local team.
“It was a very real environment,” she said. “There were actors who were very engaged in their roles. At one point we had a Code Pink (missing child or infant) and a woman played a mother who was screaming and in tears. You can practice a Code Pink here at home, but until you really have to deal with someone like that, you don’t know what it’s like.
“We were decontaminating the patients and bringing them into the ER and handling them just like we would a true emergency. You literally had to work through it all and get your patients taken care of. It wasn’t like a drill, it was just like doing the real thing.”
Even the CDP’s mannequins were extremely realistic and could breathe, cry, talk and respond to medicine, she said.
When the emergency drill began, team members took action and followed emergency protocol while different problems popped up that forced them to respond in real time.
Dealing with the crisis also gave the group a chance to see how important it is to work together, not just within your own organization but with others.
“One of the big things we learned is to not operate in a silo,” Teilhet said. “You have city, county, state and federal resources and you have to know when to ask for assistance. Wellmont is normally our competitor, but we learned to work with them on something like this. You have to make those connections and establish that rapport.
“The CDP has really top-notch instructors. Whatever role you play, you’ve got an expert mentor for your training. They really want you to bring something valuable back to your organization from this.”