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RT Departments Get Ready for the Worst

Respiratory care departments across the country are reacting to the news about the recent anthrax attacks with a renewed determination to make sure they are prepared in case of a widespread outbreak of either that disease or some other biological or chemical agent of war. Here's a brief look at just what a few are doing:

"Hannibal Regional Hospital has always included a review of the Safety, Mass Casualty, Bomb Threat, and Evacuation Plans as part of mandatory annual updates for every employee," says Bob Crawford, BSRT, RRT, RCP, group director, patient care and rehabilitation services, and director, cardiopulmonary services at the 105 bed hospital in Hannibal, MO. "After the terrorist attacks of September 11, everyone agreed that we should reassure ourselves in our preparedness. Our Mass Casualty, Bomb Threat, and Hospital Evacuation Plans were reviewed with increased scrutiny and with an additional focus on terrorism."

Another mandatory review of the plans took place in late September for all staff, and a small group also met with representatives of a local chemical plant. "I participated in that group . . . we discussed possible threats and our joint preparedness to meet them." He and other department heads are also working with vendors to ensure a steady source of equipment and supplies should the worst happen, and the hospital is putting together a plan to ensure that the family needs of staff would be taken care of in the case of a widespread attack in the community. "Our Hospital Safety Committee is looking at ways the hospital can support the family needs of hospital staff while they are at their jobs responding to the extreme needs of a tragedy."

Vickie Ganey, MBA, RRT, RPFT, RN, manager of cardiopulmonary services at Halifax Regional Hospital in South Boston, VA, says her hospital is having each department review in-house disaster and hazardous material plans. "Our main goal is to be aware of potential problems or areas of concern ­ to be prepared for any type of biological, chemical, or terrorist attack by knowing what actions to take when dealing with an unknown or abnormal situation."

Although the hospital has stopped short of purchasing new equipment, it is looking carefully at procedures for obtaining extra equipment, such as ventilators, oxygen tanks, etc., in an emergency situation. Given the hospital's close proximity to Washington, DC, such actions are only prudent. "Being in Virginia, we are close to areas that may be potential sites of attack, or we may be called on to help other areas. We are reviewing the procedures for dealing with exposure to hazardous materials -- what to do, how do you protect yourself while working on contaminated victims."

At Main Line Health Hospitals, which includes Lankenau, Bryn Mawr, and Paoli Hospitals in Pennsylvania, Director of Respiratory Care Vonnie Lamme, RRT, and her staff are also reviewing in house disaster plans and will soon benefit from a presentation on biological and chemical attacks given by one of the hospital's infectious disease physicians. Thanks to the department's clinical educator, Brian Kellar, however, they also have a self-learning packet on bioterrorism geared specifically to the needs of respiratory therapists and their patients.

"I asked Brian to develop a self learning packet on bioterrorism realizing that what we have talked about hypothetically may become a reality -- and obviously it has in the community." The packet contains a review of the most common biological and chemical weapons, including signs and symptoms, how they are spread, and how they are treated. "It also describes how therapists can protect themselves." (Members of the Management Section can see the packet for themselves in the Swap Shop area on the Management Section page of the AARC web site.)

Such information can't come a moment too soon, says Joe Rohling, BS, RRT, manager of respiratory therapy services at Community Health Care-Wausau Hospital in Wausau, WI. "I have been looking at all the information on the chemical and bioterrorism and have realized that if we or any other area of the country get hit, hospitals will most likely need a very strong RT support, as most of the treatments center around bronchodialator therapy, ventilator support, oxygen therapy, and even ribiviran therapy." His hospital is currently redoing its entire disaster response plan, and he is busy preparing for a meeting with safety department personnel to go over the RT's role.

"I have already developed a number of questions and have suggestions for possible training . . . I have realized what an important role we will now play."

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