Mass. EMS, Nursing Students Test Skills in Simulated Disaster

Mass. EMS, Nursing Students Test Skills in Simulated Disaster

News Dec 13, 2017

MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Mass.

Dec. 13—FRAMINGHAM—Millions saw the picture. Six elderly women and one black-and-white cat sitting in a flooded Texas nursing home, the greenish-brown water of Hurricane Harvey reaching waists.

A few weeks later, several seniors died after Hurricane Irma knocked out power at a Florida nursing home, leaving residents without air conditioning. There was a hospital across the street.

In a time when natural and man-made disasters seem increasingly common, MassBay Community College is stepping up efforts to prepare its medical students for the worst-case scenario.

Students in the school's nursing, EMT, paramedic and surgical technician programs took part in a disaster drill Tuesday modeled on the situation at the Florida nursing home.

"This is one of the competencies that the nurse of the future has to have," said Carmela Townsend, MassBay's director of nursing. "There is an expectation that we are able to perform either in a hospital or in the community during natural disasters."

Nursing students were stationed in two locations on the Framingham campus: in a skills lab that was supposed to be a rehab facility and in a gym that was supposed to be a hospital.

Each of the roughly dozen patients (automated and old-fashioned mannequins) in the mock rehab had a story, told by their medical chart. One had dementia, another a hip fracture. A third patient was recovering from a stroke and a fourth was on a ventilator.

Suddenly, the lights went dark; a faculty member announced the building had lost power. The patients needed to be transported to a local hospital, the gym. Paramedic and EMT students were summoned.

The students had to triage the patients. Soon after the building lost power a pregnant woman who was visiting her sister in the rehab went into labor. Paramedics later found an electrocuted maintenance worker in a hallway.

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The EMTs and paramedics delivered patients to the mock hospital, where nursing students took over their care.

The drill was designed to help students from different disciplines learn how to work together, and to get out of their comfort zone, said Kim Altavesta, director of the EMT and paramedicine programs. It was the culmination of the semester's clinical training, she said.

"We give them things that we may not have covered clearly in class or in lab," Altavesta said, "but they have the foundation to handle any case that may present."

MassBay staged a similar disaster drill this past spring, outdoors. The event simulated a mass-casualty crash of a vehicle into a building. Coincidentally, the drill took place the day after a Jeep slammed into the Lynnway Auto Auction in Billerica, killing five people.

"They are learning to manage their patients in a very high-stress (situation)," said Lise Kinahan, MassBay's skills and simulations manager. "And unfortunately, the society we live in, things are happening across the world that need this kind of care."

Will Miranda, 23, of Newton, a paramedic student, said he focused on staying cool during Tuesday's drill. "It gets hectic but you really gotta just take a breath and calm down," he said. "That's really all it is."

Tony Ioannidis, a 21-year-old paramedic student who lives in Taunton, said communication was key to the drill.

"I think this is very beneficial to the curriculum and the students here," he said, "because it kind of shows them like, hey, this can happen, it's going to happen."

Jonathan Dame
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