OCH uses emergency drill to prep for catastrophe

Amy Loggins (left) stands over her six-year-old son Hunter as the two participate as patient volunteers in a disaster preparedness drill at OCH Regional Medical Center on Thursday. (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

Six-year-old Hunter Loggins sat upright on a hospital bed as his mother Amy Loggins stood by at OCH Regional Medical Center on Thursday.

The child appeared to have suffered a head injury and had blood coming from his nose, but had a wide grin across his face as he laughed and posed for pictures. The injuries and situation were all acts geared toward helping hospital staff train in the event of a major disaster.

Thursday saw the hospital host a disaster preparedness drill in conjunction with local and state agencies, which had the hospital abuzz with activity in the early morning hours.

OCH Disaster Preparedness Officer Wes Andrews led a team of emergency officials in a command center at the hospital and rooms were filled with volunteers made up to represent patients with vary degrees of injuries.

"Here at OCH, this stuff doesn't get a whole lot of publicity but this is part of what we do," Andrews said. "We want to enhancer the community and promote what we can do."

Participating agencies in the drill were Mississippi State University, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), The Mississippi State Department of Health, cooperating EMAs from Clay and Chickasaw counties, the Department of Health and Human Services, American Quality for Health Care Systems, and local and county law enforcement and emergency officials.

"In the command center today, what we would do for our hospital, is we would set up operations to manage our response efforts for whatever the event would be," Andrews said. "We generally set it up for all hazards, then depending on what had impacted our community, we will pull that specific guideline out and begin to work through that."

Andrews said in the event of something happening to the community, OCH goes into electronic alert status, with backup systems and redundant systems in place to help process the disaster and promote enhanced communication.

"We have state-of-the-art technology that we deploy that we can utilize involving the virtual command center, with a mass communication piece for over 760 employees of the hospital," Andrews said. "We can break that down … so we can have one voice that speaks over to county EMA to Kristen Campanella. If she starts to see things happening in our county, she can communicate that to us and we know how to brace our staff for that."

One of the challenges facing emergency personnel during a time of crisis is interoperable communications, which the drill hoped to work through to better understand and prepare for issues in the event of a catastrophe.

"So many times, we hear all of the responders showing up and nobody talking on the same channel," Andrews said. "That is always something we are going to drill to make sure we get it resolved."

Andrews also said the drill is the first full-scale exercise that local nursing homes have participated in.

"We reached out to them in February because we know this is one of their credentialing pieces, so we really just walk through with this process and show them now they can do it," Andrews said. "That's been the really cool part of this whole thing.

Mary Ann Livingston was one of the people who volunteers who participated in the drill and said she was having fun playing the part of an injured patient.

She said the information sheets for nursing home residents was an interesting aspect of the drill, which will help better process patients being transported from one of the nursing homes in the area following an event.

"It's been interesting," Livingston said from her hospital bed. "Just like these sheets, I think this is one thing the nursing homes are going to start using. They will have information sheets on everyone and that's one thing that's very good from it."