Day in the (hospital) life: Decontamination Response Team's drill resembles scene from ‘Contagion’

By Kristy Bleizeffer Jun 25, 2014

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Members of the Wyoming Medical Center Decontamination Response Team practice washing down three of our drill volunteers on Wednesday, June 18.

WMC's Decontamination Response Team

What it is: A team of 14 clinical and nonclinical employees from a variety of hospital departments trained to decontaminate patients of hazardous materials before admission to the hospital. Members include Cornell Colbert, director of food and nutrition services; Heidi Markus, R.N., trauma coordinator; Kim Wiese, patient access specialist; Marsha Nichols, staff pharmacist; Michelle Giffin, quality assurance analyst; Reuben Soberanez, laboratory patient services associate; Rosemary Lewallen, R.N., patient flow coordinator; Stefanie Fowler, nursing supervisor; Stephen Baker, R.N., medical unit; Sue Rainey, transcriptionist; Edward Brannam, plant engineering; Stephen Stuckert, plant engineering; Mike Magee, emergency preparedness coordinator; and Kaleigh Peil, emergency preparedness specialist and injury prevention coordinator.
Why it’s important: The team prevents contamination of the Emergency Department and the hospital, particularly in cases of mass-contamination. It protects patients already in the hospital and protects the health of medical staff so that they can continue to treat patients.

Suited up, our Decontamination Response Team (DRT) looks like they stepped off the set of a Hollywood disaster movie. Foggy masks obscure team members' faces. Chemical-resistant suits cover every inch of their bodies. Think of every scene of every contagion movie you've ever seen and you can imagine how a mass-decontamination event might look at Wyoming Medical Center.

DRT's hooded operatives drill their response to such a scenario once a year. Their most recent was June 18, and you likely noticed something if you drove by the hospital that morning. The team erected its big blue shower tent in front of the ambulance bay, closing a small section of Conwell Street for a couple of hours.

"The purpose is to prevent the Wyoming Medical Center Emergency Department, and the hospital at large, from being contaminated in the event that a patient who has been exposed to a hazardous material ever presents himself to the hospital ," said Mike Magee, emergency preparedness coordinator. "Imagine anything. Chemical contamination most frequently happens when you don't understand what you are dealing with, while tampering with containers, or being in close proximity to a pipe rupture or a spill."

Preparation is key to the mission of Wyoming Medical Center, and we drill for all kinds of emergencies. A quick, professional response protects our patients and our staff. The following photos offer an insider view of our DRT drill on June 18. It's just one of the many training exercises in which staff participate each year.

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DRT members Sue Rainey (front left), Heidi Markus, Rosemary Lewallen (back left) and Stefanie Fowler carry an incapacitated dummy to the shower tent to start the drill. The team was created several years ago to respond to "white powder events," instances when people may be contaminated by an unknown substance, said Mike Magee, emergency preparedness coordinator for WMC. "For example, a few years ago a local retail store opened a package and white power spilled out. No one knew what the powder was, and people had to be decontaminated before they were admitted to the hospital," Magee said. "This exercise is really part of a system. Decontamination starts with the Fire Department who may be able to clean patients up in the field. DRT is activated when people show up to the hospital and they weren't able to be decontaminated at the scene. As they arrive at Wyoming Medical Center, we can either clean them up in one of our shower rooms, or set up our tent."

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The decontamination tent is divided into three sections. The middle section is used for injured people who cannot walk through the shower chambers on either side of this room. The team washes the patient with soap and water sprayed from the hoses hanging from the ceiling. Wyoming Medical Center also has a decontamination room attached to its ambulance entrance in the event only one or two people need to be cleaned before treatment. It is equipped with a storage tank which can isolate contaminated runoff.

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The team scrubs down their "patient." Why does DRT train for contamination events? Because they can, and occasionally do, happen. "We actually had an incident several years ago when a company in town that makes pepper spray had a fire," said Mike Magee, emergency preparedness coordinator. "That pepper spray, and its ingredients, got all over the responding personnel. They all had to come to the hospital and be decontaminated."

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David Giffin, posing as a contaminated patient, tests the water in the boys shower inside the decontamination tent as DRT members wash him down with soap and water. Both the water and the tent are heated, and it is a good thing. Drill day was windy and very cold for the middle of June.

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Our "patient" volunteers pose outside the blue tent after decontamination. They are Noah Aragon (front left), Maria Giffin, David Giffin, Isaac Giffin (back left) and Hannah Giffin. The Giffins, children of DRT team leader Michelle Giffin, have been volunteering for the drill for four years. "We needed live victims and I said, 'I've got live victims for you.' It's become a tradition and now they ask when they're going to get their summer showers," Michelle said.

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Emergency Department Senior Nurse Manager Corrine Arross (left) and EMT John Bruno roll the decontaminated "patient" into the ambulance entrance of Wyoming Medical Center. In order to treat patients, WMC staff must protect themselves against contamination, both known and unknown. This system also prevents patients already in the hospital from being contaminated from the outside agents.

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Sue Rainey and Rosemary Lewallen complete the last step of the drill: Washing themselves and each other.  "The team communicates through water resistant radios and a lot of hand signals," said Kaleigh Peil, emergency preparedness specialist and injury prevention coordinator. "Tasks and checkups are given through the radios by the team leader." The suits are rated Level C by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), and are made with chemical-resistant material and covering every inch of skin. Team members breath through Powered Air Purifying Respirators. Positive air pressure allows air to flow into the hood's mouthpiece when team members inhale, but out through the bottom of the hood when they exhale. The pressure prevents air from coming up through the bottom of the hood.

Day in the (hospital) life” is an occasional series highlighting the work that goes on every day in Wyoming Medical Center departments. Not all of the work may be evident to our patients, but all of it is essential to bringing you safe, compassionate care.

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