Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 29
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
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Simulated Medical Emergency Drill Puts Medical Center, Area Hospitals on Alert

Linda Arntzenius

Amy Franco Rodriguez suspected that the "emergency" that hit the University Medical Center of Princeton at 8 a.m. last Wednesday, July 11, might be a drill.

"I didn't know it was coming until it happened," said Ms. Rodriguez, who works for Princeton HealthCare System. "It was very realistic and I acted as if it was the real thing."

The exercise was a continuation of Project ESCAPE (E-coli Surge Capacity Assessment and Performance Evaluation), which was sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Health.

The exercise lasted three hours and was designed to facilitate communication among the hospitals and Mercer County health and emergency management officials.

As public information officer, Ms. Rodriguez was charged with the job of liaison between the incident commander and the public, families of the victim, and the media.

"At the University Medical Center the commander on Wednesday was our Chief Financial Officer Bruce Traub, but it could vary and would typically be the first person in an executive leadership role to arrive on the scene, " commented Ms Rodriguez.

All five hospitals in Mercer County participated in the countywide emergency preparedness drill, which was designed by the NJ Department of Health Laboratories to test the surge capacity of county hospitals' laboratories and emergency departments as well as communication among hospitals and with county officials.

Besides Princeton HealthCare System, the other hospitals were Capital Health System - Fuld and Mercer campuses; Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton; and St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton.

At 8 a.m., each hospital received an emergency care scenario based on a total number of 163 patients treated at the five hospitals.

The patients were exhibiting symptoms of E-coli (strain 0157), a bacterial disease transmitted by food or water that has been contaminated by feces. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. In the scenario, the patients were linked to a hypothetically recent four-day political conference in Atlantic City.

At each hospital, volunteer victims reported and were assessed and treated.

"A mock Joint Information Center (JIC) was convened which allowed for centralized communication and collaboration regarding information being released to the public," said Ms. Rodriguez, who had to delegate her role to a colleague when she was called from the hospital to go to the JIC at the Mercer County Dempster Fire Academy in Lawrenceville.

There, the public information staffs of all five hospitals combined efforts to prepare a news release that contained accurate and timely information so that members of the media would not have to call each hospital for information.

According to the press release created by the information officers, 15 victims were admitted and 46 discharged from the Capital Health System hospital. In Princeton, 10 victims were admitted, and 35 discharged. At RWJ-Hamilton, all 30 patients were discharged with none admitted. While at St. Francis, there were 9 admissions, and 18 discharges.

Mercer County hospitals are the first and only hospitals statewide to participate in this type of collaborative exercise.

"It's only through such exercises in our region that we can test our surge capacity as well as strengthen the communication among the hospitals and government agencies," commented Barry S. Rabner, President & CEO, Princeton HealthCare System. "We will be incorporating all of the lessons learned during this drill in our emergency preparedness planning."

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