How a community hospital responded to a “near disaster”

Webster Springs, W.Va. – Webster County Memorial Hospital typically sees between 14 and 17 emergency patients per day. On the morning of November 19, when WCMH emergency department physician Louis Yancich, MD, was told there was an accident involving a local school bus, he and the ED team immediately began planning the department’s response for a potentially significant number of injuries and casualties.

Meanwhile, upstairs, the hospital’s boardroom was transformed into a full-blown disaster preparedness command center. Response team members gathered to discuss staffing, supplies, space and patient needs while awaiting the arrival of the busload of students.

Throughout the 25-bed hospital, staff leaped into action. They prepared for the worst but thankfully, that didn’t happen. All in all, the hospital saw 35 students plus the bus driver that morning. All were treated and released from WCMH within two hours of the crash.

“There was no panicking. Staff was focused on the task at hand and on the patients,” said Dr. Yancich.  “The students were triaged immediately while on the bus allowing us to determine what level of care was needed for each.  The majority were taken to the clinic for examination, several others were taken to the emergency department for care,” said Yancich.

The hospital emergency department was attending to patients when the bus of 35 students arrived.

“I am extremely proud of the staff’s ability to withstand and respond to the influx of students, while maintaining normal functions in our Emergency Department and clinic areas,” said WCMH CEO Jim Parker. “It was impressive to watch our hospital community come together to provide appropriate and quick care to the patients.”

Staff from various departments within the hospital assisted. Some helped with the triage process, others with registration, they handed out snacks, escorted patients, and still more kept the students comfortable and occupied until they could be seen by a provider or released to their parents.

“We’re from Webster County and that’s just what we do. We pull together when there is a need,” said Linda Cochran, WCMH revenue cycle employee. “Staff were coming in asking what they could do and how they could help.”

Cochran believes the community’s small size is a strength when it comes to situations of need.

“We know each other and we want to respond. We had members of the school system show up to check on the students and families. It’s nice when the community comes together,” added Cochran.

The hospital conducts drills about once a year to prepare for large-scale events. John Bragg, Security Director at WCMH, also serves as the hospital’s disaster coordinator.  He explained the situation provided an opportunity to practice their disaster drill processes. 

“We all felt huge relief knowing the accident was minor and no students were injured; and overall our processes were well coordinated.  We held a de-briefing shortly after the incident to discuss what could be improved going forward,” Bragg said.

“Like emergency medical services, the fire department, other first responders and local government, our hospital plays a crucial role in disaster response. We want our community to trust that we are prepared and committed to their safety, always.”

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