Eight employees of New Hanover Health Network, Wilmington, N.C., became the first hospital officials in the country to complete a weeklong bioterrorism training course conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The "Integrated Emergency Management Course: Consequences of Terrorism" brought the hospital officials for training at FEMA's center in Mount Weather, Va., from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1. They were joined by more than 60 other officials from local police and fire departments, county and state emergency management agencies, the health department, public utilities, schools and other agencies across southeastern North Carolina.
Barbara Bisset, the five-hospital system's director of emergency response, safety and special police, says New Hanover was chosen because it had participated in two previous FEMA courses related to responding to hurricanes and because there are three military installations near Wilmington.
"The real key thing is you learn the names and the faces and you learn the agency's role in a disaster," she says. "We actually spent an evening where all the agencies shared what resources they had and could produce in a disaster. It was a wonderful thing because I would have never thought of calling the Army Corps of Engineers to ask them for refrigerated trucks to help manage the bodies of the victims."
The course, planned before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, included classroom exercises, lectures and a full-blown disaster simulation, Bisset says.
"They knew that we had practice with anthrax, since we had had some (local) anthrax hoaxes, so they gave us the plague," she says. In the simulation, environmental terrorists release pneumonic plague in Wilmington's largest shopping mall, with 260 deaths and 1,600 critically ill, according to the simulation.
The federal agencies were not without a sense of humor, at least before the training began. "They played with our minds a little bit," Bisset said. "We got bused up there, and they showed (the movie) `Speed' on the bus."
"John Q" has really touched a nerve. While Outliers reported last week on how the managed-care industry is shocked, shocked, at its treatment in the new Denzel Washington flick, hospital representatives don't think providers fare much better in their portrayal.
Part of the problem may be the film's success; it debuted atop the box-office rankings the weekend of Feb. 15-17. In the film, Washington plays a father who hijacks an emergency room because his employer's health plan won't cover his son's heart transplant.
In a letter to the chief executive of New Line Cinema, which financed the film, Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said he fears the film may inspire copycat crimes at New York-area hospitals already traumatized by Sept. 11 and the anthrax exposures. "It's a time when the public, more than ever before, needs to be reminded that hospitals are places of refuge, care and counseling, as well as the first line of defense in response to a bioterrorism attack," Raske wrote.
Thomas Dolan, president and CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives, agrees. "We're there to improve people's health, and money sometimes gets in the way, so we do what we need to do to get the money," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I can't imagine a situation where a patient would be left to drift, to find his own resources."
In the transitional-care center at St. Lucie Medical Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla., there are 24 beds, nurses and all the standard things you would find in a surgical recovery unit. There's also something rarely found in a place ordinarily reserved for humans: a 1-year-old dachshund named Tex.
Tex started roaming the halls of the unit about eight months ago. He follows his owner, registered nurse Lauren Eavers, down the halls and into patient rooms when requested. At 26 pounds, he may be the hospital's most economical way of improving patient outcomes.
"He puts a sparkle in patients' eyes," says Ginger King, a spokeswoman for 150-bed St. Lucie. "Technically he's not allowed to get on their beds. But some patients do bend down and lift him up."
Eavers' favorite hobby is sewing, and it shows on Tex, who wears one of 40 tailor-made outfits to work each day.
The patients in the recovery center love Tex, say hospital officials, who add that he is kept very clean, has all his shots and is trained to stay out of areas he shouldn't be in.
Tex is aware he provides value at the hospital, Eavers says."I'm just so grateful that our administration allows us to do this."
G'day, medical errors
Finally, this news comes to us from The Age, an Australian periodical, which tells us that medical errors have just surfaced as an issue Down Under, which by comparison should make providers here feel a little better.
A report by the Medical Error Action Group, a private organization, found anecdotal information showing that hospitals in the country were rife with wrong drug doses or mixed medications, falls, pressure sores, hospital-acquired infections and deaths resulting from medical procedures.
The group's chief executive, Lorraine Long, said the report was a question of "patient beware." And she thinks the problem may be much worse. "There is no government data," she told The Age.
In fact, it was only last year that Australian health ministers agreed to a plan to tackle adverse health incidents, which included making hospitals provide comprehensive reports on mistakes that harm and kill patients.