'Code Blue': Hospital does the drill

Most of the people who needed to hear the “Code Blue” announced over the hospital PA system on Wednesday didn’t.

Fortunately, it was just a drill.

Administrators and staff at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital had been planning the drill — which involved a simulated bomb threat — for weeks. Twelve volunteers acted as patients, and doctors, nurses and administrative personnel worked during the course of a half-hour to evacuate them from a wing of the hospital while engineers searched for the “bomb.”

“I have to see if I have to faint or anything,” said volunteer Shirley Ekker as she glanced at the card she wore around her neck. Each “patient” had a list of symptoms they were to display so the simulation would be as real as possible. The patient actors were stationed in several areas of the hospital’s second floor, including the Intensive Care Unit, the dialysis center and the family birth center.

The goal was to evacuate everyone “laterally,” with the assumption that elevators and stairs in the wing would not be useable.

Patient actors on beds and in wheelchairs were whisked through hallways to an elevator in another wing. Those who were ambulatory were walked to another wing where they were led down staircases. Drill participants were instructed to gather in the parking lot on the east side of the hospital while organizers checked to make sure everyone was out.

“Overall, the drill was a success,” said Jane Burke, emergency department nurse manager and one of the coordinators of the drill. “We were able to pretty quickly get all the patients off the floor.” She said the problems with the PA system “weren’t too surprising.”

“We know we’ve had some problems with it,” she said. The current system has only one volume control for all functions. For that reason, a new PA system has been ordered and will be installed at the hospital next month.

Burke also said there were a couple of the emergency plans that “needed some clarification.”

The volunteer patients filled out questionnaires after the drill. “(They) had some good input from the patients’ perspective,” Burke said.

Their feedback, as well as input from hospital personnel — several of whom observed the drill from various staging points around the hospital — will be incorporated into future emergency response plans.

The hospital is mandated to have two major drills annually, taking place at least four months apart, according to Burke. Drills are staged to simulate various disaster scenarios, from bomb threats to bioterrorism.

Every other year, PHRMH participates in a “mass casualty” drill as a collaborative effort between Hood River and Skamania counties. That drill is planned for next fall.

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