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Tennessee Hospitals Test Readiness in Mass Casualty Response Exercise

Bloodied and bruised, Benjamin Steinke stepped off the school bus and staggered a few feet toward the waiting line of gurneys before dropping to the pavement outside the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

Nurses rushed to help him up, reading the card around his neck to learn he had a “collapsed lung.”

Steinke, a senior at Halls High, was one of 29 high school students who played “victims” during a mass casualty drill Wednesday. From 9 a.m.-1 p.m., actor “victims” of an explosion — similar to the Boston Marathon bombing — showed up at 54 hospitals in East Tennessee, from Chattanooga to the Tri-Cities, to test how they would handle a sudden “surge” of 20 percent of their capacities coming in through the emergency room doors.

“My card said, ‘Can’t walk,’ so I stumbled a bit and then collapsed,” Steinke said.

The students, with help from Halls High’s art department, had realistic wounds via liquid latex, makeup and fake blood. Some “patients” at other hospitals were less elaborate; some existed only on paper.

All helped test how agencies throughout East Tennessee communicated with each other, sharing information and resources in the event of a crisis.

It was one of the largest hospital exercises ever conducted in Tennessee, said Katharine Killen, community relations director for the Knox County Health Department. For years, KCHD and East Tennessee Regional Health Office have conducted mass casualty drills — a roof collapse, train derailment or bioterrorism attack, for example. But this was the first time the exercise involved regional hospital coordinators and other emergency preparedness staff from Sullivan, Hamilton and other counties.

Local hospitals, all “pretty full already,” handled the extra patients well, said Charity Menefee, regional hospital coordinator for Knox County. The drill showed “how quickly (we could) get extra support to this area. ... We had a lot of assets available to us from all three areas within 45 minutes — which is really, really good.”

All will meet Thursday for a large-scale debriefing, she said.

UTMC emergency and trauma nurse manager Niki Rasnake and clinical nurse specialist Beckye Dalton have seen the drills lead to tweaks that help during an actual emergency — like a change that has personnel walking around registering incoming patients with scanners right away, “so we can keep track of where everybody is,” Rasnake said.

The drills help prepare for the unpredictable — like the recent deadly bus crash in Dandridge which brought 14 patients, by ground and air, to UTMC.

“We did the real thing last month,” Dalton said.


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