Sandwich, MA Hospital Evacuation Exercise

Hospital simulation turns plan into action

By George Brennan
July 22, 2010

simon_sandwichEAST SANDWICH — Yesterday afternoon, while the sun was poking through clouds on the rest of Cape Cod, a category 2 hurricane swept through a small portion of Sandwich, causing minor damage to a hospital and injuries to patients.

The mock storm, Hurricane Elaine, battered the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands with 100 mph winds.

It was only a test, but emergency officials said hospital staff passed.

“It’s given us good information,” said Carole Stasiowski, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

During the two-hour drill, three “patients” were evacuated, one with cardiac distress, and taken to Cape Cod Hospital by ambulance.

“The evacuation was done quickly and successfully,” said Stephanie Nadolny, vice president of clinical services, who coordinated the hospital’s emergency command center.

If a hurricane had actually been forecast, the hospital would take precautions by boarding up some windows in advance to create safe zones, said Carl Smith, facilities engineer for the hospital.

Some patients would also be moved in advance to other hospitals or even sent home if they’re able, said director of nurses Martha Hunter.

The “hurricane” hit just after 1 p.m.

Nurses, doctors and other staff at the hospital scurried to their stations as a code was called over the intercom to alert them to the emergency.

Moments later, the lights went out and an emergency generator kicked in.

Patients were told about the disaster drill through signs and an announcement over the hospital’s intercom system.

The Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands, which has beds for as many as 60 patients, held yesterday’s drill in cooperation with the Sandwich Fire Department.

The idea was to test its emergency plan — specifically the generator and a new radio system installed at the hospital.

“The number one problem in (Hurricane) Katrina was the lack of communication, especially with hospitals,” said J.J. Burke, the fire department’s safety officer, in outlining the reasons for the drill.

Graduate students from Boston University acted as patients to test evacuation procedures.

The hospital serves patients who have been seriously injured or undergone surgery before they return home.

The hospital would be able to continue operating on generators, back-up communications systems and food for about a week, building manager Carl Smith said.

Extra cots, linens and supplies are available at a nearby warehouse, Nadolny said.

The new radio system operated by the Cape Cod Amateur Radio Emergency Service allows the hospital to stay in contact with other hospitals and agencies during a powerful storm.

Among its features is the ability to send e-mail, including vital medical records, said Frank O’Laughlin, district emergency coordinator.

“It worked out superbly,” he said after yesterday’s drill.