A real-life accident didn’t interrupt a disaster drill, but it did provide valuable insight for the employees at Hale Hoola Hamakua, a 77-bed hospital and long-term care facility in Honokaa.
Around 7 a.m. Monday, a tractor-trailer collided with a utility pole on Mamalahoa Highway, between Iokua Place and Mokuloa Drive, in Waimea. The crash snarled morning commute traffic and caused delays for many, including several Hale Hoola Hamakua employees and volunteers who made a late arrival for the drill.
In spite of this unexpected circumstance, the drill was carried out successfully. Without hesitation, those present stepped up, taking on extra duties and filling in temporarily for the missing roles, said Stephanie Peikert, Hale Hoola Hamakua volunteer services coordinator.
Just before 9 a.m., a siren went off signifying the start of the drill, a disaster preparedness operation involving 60 hospital employees, as well as 20 “injured” residents and five family members played by volunteers. Hawaii Police Department, Hawaii County Fire Department and state emergency medical services personnel also played key roles, Peikert said.
The mock disaster consisted of a motor vehicle accident involving an overturned tanker transporting chlorine and its leaking tank. This was the first time Hale Hoola Hamakua had a drill with a full decontamination team, consisting of 18 members, and as such, everyone involved learned how to handle a large-scale accident at a rural outpost, which could be cut off from larger hospitals or used when the traveling distance is too great, Peikert said.
Hale Hoola Hamakua quickly established a labor pool while its maintenance department and available staff members set up the facility’s decontamination tent in 18 minutes in the porte-cochere.
Healthcare Association of Hawaii provided the facility in May 2011 with the decontamination tent and two powered air purifying respirators, or PAPRs, through the Hospital Preparedness Program, with Health and Human Services and Emergency Medical Services. The tent costs approximately $18,500 while the PAPRs are $3,000 each. Hale Hoola Hamakua also has an additional four PAPRs on-site, owned by Hawaii Health Systems Corp., Peikert said.
The first victim — 18-year-old Joey Charbonneau of Honokaa — arrived by ambulance. He was carried on a backboard by two fire rescue workers and his head was wrapped. Charbonneau, an Eastern Arizona University sophomore, did not panic as triage nurses quizzed him about his head laceration and condition, as well as scribbled fast notes on a diagnosis card. He proved to be a good sport when two responders wearing protective suits and PAPRs showered him, still strapped to the backboard, inside the tent. Afterward, he was loaded onto a gurney and taken inside to different hospital areas for treatment. He remained lying down for most of the drill.
Charbonneau was impressed by the rescue efforts at the mock disaster, saying “Everyone did a good job. Everybody played their roles as true to what the real situation would be as possible. Their response was fast.”
As more victims arrived, responders remained methodical and precise, prioritizing who needed help first and assigning them to different colored areas — green for minor, yellow for delay and red for immediate.
The victims mentioned breathing difficulties, abdominal pain, vision loss, skin irritation, vomiting and headaches. Some did not respond to commands or were unconscious. Most of the chemical causalities were showered inside the tent. Then they were treated on-site or moved to other hospital areas. A few were declared dead.
The simulation was often a positive demonstration of Hale Hoola Hamakua’s capabilities. The goal was to be better prepared today than yesterday, as well as boost responders confidence and comfortableness for a real chemical emergency.
“The hands-on learning experience is invaluable in helping us to understand all of the issues and variables that can crop up with a disaster of this size. It helped us become familiar with the equipment and how it functions when patients are actually involved,” Peikert said. “Hale Hoola Hamakua performed a debriefing immediately after the drill with all participants including EMS, the Fire Department and police in order to understand those issues. We will continue to do debriefings, as well as ongoing training, in order to further improve our communication and response times in event of a disaster.”