SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — To hospital visitors who were unaware of what was really happening, the entrance to Memorial Health’s Emergency Department Tuesday morning likely looked like a chaotic scene.
More people than usual were carted off of ambulances and into the hospital, some with visibly bloody injuries.
However, these were only mock wounds on people who were not actually hurt. It was all part of an essential mass-casualty drill.
The hospital hosted the simulated event in partnership with Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield. Around 30 people played the role of critically injured patients while the hospital’s medical personnel went through the drill of how to handle a large number of patients at one time.
“Given that we’re the only level-one trauma center in all of southeast Georgia, we have to be ready for whatever comes our way,” said James Dunne, Chief of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at Memorial Health.
Dunne said the hospital is required to drill at least twice annually for mass-casualty incidents, whether it’s for active shooters, weather-related events, building collapses or anything in between.
These drills provide a training opportunity to improve preparedness in the event of a real emergency.
For Fort Stewart, the full-scale exercise was a chance to validate its emergency response capabilities.
A drill like this, or in real life, is mass chaos, organized chaos.”JAMES DUNNE, MEMORIAL HEALTH CHIEF OF TRAUMA AND SURGICAL CRITICAL CARE
Memorial Health’s status as a level-one trauma center means they take care of critically injured people every day, Dunne said.
“What we don’t see, though, is when the system is overloaded, where the resources are stretched, and that’s where drills like this are very beneficial,” he said, adding, “We have to learn how to do things that we aren’t necessarily accustomed to doing from a resource perspective.”
The biggest challenge that most hospitals have, according to Dunne, is tracking patients as they come through.
“A drill like this, or in real life, is mass chaos, organized chaos,” Dunne said. “It’s paramount that we track these people, know where they are at all times, and that we haven’t missed anybody or any injuries.”
Memorial Health has an entire system in place for how it activates mass-casualty response, including where medical personnel goes during the event, how they report and what their various jobs entail, Dunne said.
“We all know how to take care of critically injured patients, we just have to remember to keep doing what we’re trained to do, and that we know how to do it,” Dunne said.
“We’ve all got a system in place, there’s a plan in place. We’ve just got to follow the plan.”
He added that a real-life mass-casualty response of this magnitude couldn’t be handled by just one hospital.
That’s why Memorial Health works with various hospitals in the community, as well as the military, for a coordinated response.
“Not only are we stressing the systems within Memorial, but we’re stressing the systems throughout southeast Georgia, and seeing how southeast Georgia responds from an emergency management perspective, as well,” Dunne said.