Chemical Drill Helps Hospital Workers

Orange protective suits resembling space suits were pulled out of storage bags at Nacogdoches Medical Center Hospital on Thursday. They're used to protect disaster workers from burning chemicals or biohazards. They're more often used in disaster drills to keep hospital staff ready for a real life disaster.

Every effort was made to put the staff in the frame of mind of a major event. Nursing students powdered their noses with baby powder to give the illusion of hydrochloric acid. Red makeup simulated burns. The drill was a train chemical accident, chosen because every day such chemicals are transported through the city. The scenario teaches emergency workers how wise it is to know the plan of response before the real event occurs.

Evaluators put participants to the test by documenting what goes right and what goes wrong. The lessons learned from similar drills helped last year when 187 hurricane Rita patients were served. Environmental consultant Robert Storment said, "That's one of the things we stress in this. It's not just a bioterrorism type of patient, but any type of event that happens with a lot of mass casualties and the hurricanes were a great example of how this process can work."

The hospital has a team of 25 to assist in chemical and biological events. The team more than doubled in size from last year. The more people certified the more can be offered. Employees can relieve one another from the high stress job of treating seriously injured people.

Participation from nursing students, local emergency services and state agencies was commendable. Taking it to the regional level would be even better. Barbara Seiser with the Texas Department of Health said, "We need a lot more coordination between not just the local community but all the counties surrounding us, states that are on our borders. We're all involved. We all need to play a part."

Drill planners don't make it simple. They throw in twists and curve balls to keep staff forever thinking what would I do if this really happened.