Hospitals focus on safety training after 9/11

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

Since Sept. 11, Mountain States Health Alliance has made a concentrated effort to improve safety for patients and workers at its nine hospitals. By increasing the training of the hospitals' first response team, MSHA officials believe they have made strides toward making their facilities safer.
   MSHA has adopted a three-step approach to dealing with potential disasters. According to Mark Moody, Director of Engineering, Safety and Security for MSHA, prevention, response and support are the keys to dealing with potential threats on hospitals. "Prevention will lessen the severity of an attack. Response is how well we are equipped to deal with an attack, and we will need the support of the community should an event take place," Moody said.
   The security department serves as a first response team at MSHA hospitals and the engineering department is being prepared as a back-up response team in the event of a disaster. "At MSHA we have conducted awareness training for security and engineering personnel to make them more observant and more inquisitive of suspicious persons and packages," Moody said.
   The security personnel and engineers at MSHA have recently been trained in controlling infectious diseases and chemical outbreaks. HEPACO and the Johnson City Fire Department assisted MSHA in the training. MSHA participated in a simulated terrorist attack the end of July sponsored by Nuclear Fuel Services. The simulation helped the hospitals to prepare and practice for potential attacks in the future.
   The medical staffs and emergency departments at the hospitals have increased awareness as well. They are being taught how to diagnose symptoms of anthrax and other bio-hazards which tend to be difficult to detect because they mimic common illnesses such as the flu. Smallpox is highly contagious and entire hospital staffs can be at risk in the event of an outbreak. The federal government plans to make smallpox vaccinations available to every emergency room worker in the near future.
   Just last week MSHA employees finished a course in responding to weapons of mass destruction. "Training and awareness are the largest things that we have done since September," Moody said. Moody stated that they have taken other measures but he did not want to make them public for security purposes.
   MSHA have had a few tests completed by local S.W.A.T. teams to pinpoint its hospitals' vulnerable points. The tests have allowed personnel to work on the areas where security was weak in order to improve the hospitals' ability to respond to an attack. "I think Sept. 11 made everybody review their processes and ask ourselves how we would respond," said Ed Herbert, MSHA's Vice-president of Media Relations. "Who could have been ready for 9-11? But overall it created a need to say what would we do if something like that happened to us." Herbert stated that the hospitals do a variety of drills including internal "code red" drills to prepare for potential disasters. He noted that fortunately, so far, none of them have been real.
   In June, President Bush signed into law the Public Health Security and Bio-terrorism Preparedness Response Act. This legislation was the first to recognize hospitals as first responders in the event of terrorist attacks. The law has provided for much of the preventative training that has taken place in hospitals all over the country since Sept. 11.