The sound of sirens followed by multiple ambulances backing up to the Emergency Department (ED) at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System’s C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center placed employees on alert, Wednesday morning, August 2.
Minutes earlier, Bay Pines VA received a notification from first responders that an errant boat had crashed into a large group of people in the water, at nearby Boca Ciega Bay. Due to the proximity, emergency vehicles were in-bound to C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center to render immediate medical attention to those who were injured.
The call and the scenario were fictitious however, the response of the hospital and ED personnel were not. The mass casualty (MASCAL) exercise was part of a Joint Commission-required training to test readiness in support of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Fourth Mission.
“There are a lot of hospitals in the area, but the influx of tourists, plus nearly one million residents in Pinellas County, could quickly overwhelm those locations that are expected to respond to disaster situations,” said Bay Pines VA Emergency Management Specialist Melissa Wallach. "Training for scenarios like this reinforces our readiness to support the local community in times of crisis.”
Wallach worked with leadership across the healthcare system and the local community to create a scenario that would help evaluate the organization’s readiness and identify areas for improvement.
“Mass casualty, full-scale exercises like the one we conducted today test our operational response capabilities in a high-stress environment that aligns to real-world scenarios,” added Bay Pines VA Associate Director and Incident Commander Sean Turner. “Our ability to provide support to non-Veterans during times of crisis reinforces the invaluable confidence and trust that local first responders have in us to answer the call when it matters most.”
In keeping with the spirit of community partnership, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4256, located at Madeira Beach, volunteered to serve as mock victims during the exercise. Prior to the event, Wallach designed and coordinated the MASCAL exercise with a focus on six critical areas. “We understand that our ability to respond effectively involves a cross-organizational approach with multiple services and teams,” added Wallach. “During our evaluation, we factored in the importance of communications, staffing, patient clinical and support services, safety and security, resources and assets, and utilities.”
Overall, leadership was pleased with what they saw, and the feedback received from evaluators.
“We identified a few areas where we need to invest a little more time, but overall, we did a lot of things right today, and that builds confidence,” added Turner. “If that call ever comes, I know our teams are ready to respond and meet those challenges head-on, in support of our community.”