The 9/11 terrorist attacks forever changed America. For nurses and other healthcare workers, the aftermath of anthrax scares, bioterrorism worries and other potential terrorist threats made disaster preparedness more important than ever.
In the years that followed, events such as Hurricane Katrina, the H1N1 swine flu pandemic and more recently, the May tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., have tested the healthcare community’s ability to care for patients during a major emergency.
As St. Louis area RNs reflect on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Nurse.com NurseWeek asked them how the attacks affected jobs and disaster preparedness roles at their facilities. What we found was preparedness for a disaster — whether it is natural or man-made — is something that always has been at the forefront for nurses.Judy Marlow, RN
Judy Marlow, RN, MS
Clinical education specialist, ED • Missouri Baptist Medical Center, St. Louis
“Long before the Joint Commission required hospitals to engage in planning with community responders, we have actively participated in the development of our region’s emergency preparedness plans. Since 9/11, we further developed our security enhancement grid and conducted annual gap analyses to look for vulnerabilities in our infrastructure and planning. One of the results included our procedure for handling and remediating anthrax threats — beginning with training by our mail room and ED staff. Every ED staff member participates in a chemical and radiation decontamination training module, which we’ve shared with other hospitals. This response group is supplemented with members from our ICU, radiology and other departments. Our hospital representative collaborated with other hospitals to create a Mutual Aid Agreement, which provides for the sharing of supplies, equipment and staff with signatory hospitals in our region.”
Keith Outlaw, RN
Assistant clinical manager/disaster preparedness coordinator • Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis
“Numerous measures to improve preparedness for — and response to — natural disasters, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are ongoing at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Training efforts over the past five years have drastically increased. The ED disaster training class has trained more than 400 staff. The highly successful National Incident Management System online course has been completed by more than 200 ED staff members. In 2006, Barnes-Jewish was recognized by the National Trauma Foundation as one of the top five hospitals in the nation highly prepared in defending against these threats. The importance of this education and training cannot be overemphasized, and it is hoped that our nurses, physicians and ancillary staff will develop a solid understanding of the potential disasters we face and the knowledge needed in defending against these threats.”
Jeff Hamilton, RN
Emergency management coordinator • Mercy Hospital St. Louis
“At Mercy Hospital St. Louis, we began disaster planning even before 9/11. In 2000, we worked in coordination with other Level 1 trauma centers in St. Louis to form a regional hospital planning group that continues to be actively involved in disaster planning. The same year, our emergency management department designed a bar code tracking program for disasters, which is used throughout the country. In 2002, we formed a decontamination team and also have a hospital-based search-and-rescue team to assist during evacuations. We have a unique partnership with our general building contractor and unions to assist during structure collapses. We have a computer-based mass prophylaxis program and, in relation to that program, we assisted the St. Louis County Department of Health with vaccinations for expectant mothers during the H1N1 pandemic.”
Rita Srum, RN, BSN
Nursing director, ED • St. Anthony’s Medical Center, St. Louis
“Our facility’s Emergency Management Task Force has been actively involved in preparedness at our facility as well as local, regional and state exercises for disaster readiness. Our region has worked to upgrade communications between hospitals and first responders. The St. Louis region has developed the SMOC — St. Louis Medical Operations Center — which has duty officers who come from various facilities, including ours. The SMOC provides information on disaster sites, resource requests, incident command activations in the area, MCI (Mass Casualty Incident) Bed Availability, and NDMS (National Disaster Medical System) Bed Reporting. The SMOC can be activated with a phone call and as needed for a disaster situation. When the SMOC is idle, the website is an excellent resource for disaster preparedness information. Our hospital actively participates in SMOC exercises, as well as internal exercises, so our facility can be prepared if the need ever arises.”