Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Clinic stages mass casualty drill


June 16, 2022

SEARHC Haines Health Center ran a mass casualty incident drill with the help of local volunteer actors on June 9.

Held at the clinic, the simulation tested the health center’s response to a crisis selected by Tegria Healthcare Technology, the company hired to oversee the drill. In this case, the simulated accident was a plane crash, but clinic administrator Stephanie Pattison said she has previously seen simulations of tour bus accidents, cruise ship accidents, and bomb detonations.

Health-care facilities practice such drills once every few years to identify weak spots in their protocol and communication channels. “What this does is it takes an in-depth look at your processes, your procedures, and where your weak points are,” said Pattison, who served as incident commander. “The goal is not to make you fail, but the main focus is seeing how far you can strain your resources. It tries to push you to your limit and past your limit.”

The drill, which lasted for two hours, began with an alert to all staff and proceeded to triage, which assigned patients to medical teams based on the seriousness of their injuries. Nine volunteer actors -- commissioned to play the role of patients in the simulation -- were drawn from the roster of the Lynn Canal Community Players and from healthcare workers’ families. (Two of the pediatric patients were played by the children of nurses.)

Three coaches from Tegria called the actors ahead of time, briefing them on their character’s injuries and advising them on how to portray various conditions. Some actors were instructed to pretend that they did not speak English. The coaches also applied gory make-up to volunteers to simulate wounds.

In a real mass casualty crisis, the entire health center building would go under lockdown. For the simulation, the pharmacy and front desk remained open, but triage nurses pretended to screen anyone entering the building. Staff called the medevac team during the drill to determine how many patients they could evacuate – and how quickly -- given the weather and number of available planes.

After the simulation, clinic staff discussed the facility’s response with six observers from Tegria, as well as with SEARHC’s Director of Safety and Security, who had flown in from Sitka to observe.

“It was absolutely amazing. It went very well,” Pattison said of the drill.

She credited the success mostly to the skill of doctors and nurses working at the clinic. The Tegria team – who have observed similar drills in Wrangell, Prince of Wales, Sitka, and Juneau – were similarly impressed. They told Pattison that Haines had one of the most seamless and efficient disaster drills they had seen. “We are so incredibly lucky to have the medical staff that we have,” she said.


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